3 Stars — Wholesome
Everyone loves movies where the underdog succeeds, whether it is on the streets of India in Slumdog Millionaire or on the streets of the southern United States in The Blind Side. Such films dig deep into our emotions, especially if the story is true and is portrayed by actors who carry an attractive personal charm. Such is Million Dollar Arm put out by Walt Disney Studios in its usual wholesome style guaranteed to bring a tear to your eye.
Million Dollar Arm blends together two themes in two different worlds. The first takes place in the person of J.B. Bernstein (Jon Hamm), a sports agent whose business in 2008 is in decline and he wants to regain the money and prestige that he once knew as a hot-shot young agent in the fast-paced and high-living arena of professional athletes. His ambition leads him into an experiment to find cricket players in India and train them to become American superstar baseball pitchers.
If he can find two such players, he will become the talk of the sports world and potentially rich as well! However, the lesson he learns is that he cannot just use other people without there being several unintended consequences.
The second theme emerges from the lives of two Indian young men who dream of winning Bernstein's pitching contest. After watching a televised cricket game broadcast from India, Bernstein concocts a contest that will lure thousands of Indian boys to use their cricket skills to pitch an American baseball.
Fueled with money from a potential Chinese businessman in the U.S. who wants the television rights to this unique rags to riches story, Bernstein, along with a retired crotchety old baseball scout named Ray (Alan Arkin), head off through the cities and villages of India to find hidden treasure.
Rinku (Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh (Madhur Mittal) are the winners of this contest, and their lives experience a radical change in economics as well as culture. Growing up in a poor small village is a far cry from the hustle and bustle of Hollywood where people live in a candy store of physical riches but often are dirt poor in spiritual depth. The person who provides a human leveling in values and purpose is Bernstein's renter Brenda (Lake Bell), an honest but charismatic nurse who steals all of their hearts.
What emerges is the story of two humble and impressionable youths and the necessity to handle with care the dreams of people who don't have the privilege of growing up in the rich land of opportunity of America. These lives require love, patience and fatherly care, attributes that Bernstein never imagined he would have to provide. What transpires is both life-changing for these young men as well as for Bernstein himself.
Since this is based on a true story, the outcome of the contest is already known. What gives the story its depth is the honest transformation of intent that each has to experience. Making a choice to put the lives of people ahead of profit is admirable, but the love that comes in the process is much deeper and requires a metamorphosis of spiritual and emotional values.
Million Dollar Arm may be about living in the land of opportunity, but its core message is that the love and respect we give to one another is more important that any success our culture can bestow upon us.
» It is often assumed that the wealth of America can buy happiness. However, both in life and in film we are reminded that love and spiritual depth are the true basis for meaningful and fulfilling lives. How have you protected your own soul from the culture in which you live?
» The schemes of people often go astray. Yet it is also true that people can find their way back to a meaningful path. How have you experienced both times of unexpected consequences and the lessons you learned from them?
» The guidance provided by Brenda allows Bernstein to see more clearly what he was experiencing. Who speaks such truth into your life?
— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.