Directed by Ben Lewin
Starring – Paul Rudd, Connie Nielsen, Mark Strong
The Plot – In the midst of World War II, major league catcher Moe Berg (Rudd) is drafted to join a new team: the Office of Strategic Services (the precursor to the CIA). No ordinary ballplayer, the erudite, Jewish Ivy League graduate speaks nine languages and is a regular guest on a popular TV quiz show. Despite his celebrity, Berg is an enigma – a closeted gay man with a knack for keeping secrets. The novice spy is quickly trained and sent into the field to stop German scientist Werner Heisenberg before he can build an atomic bomb for the Nazis.
Rated R for some sexuality, violence, and adult language
– There’s a surprise behind every corner with the casting. Even if you’ve seen the poster for this film, that lists the names of the film’s top three or four stars, there’s enough cameo drop-ins to establish this as possibly the best ensemble cast of randomly assorted actors that I have seen in 2018.
– Most importantly, this is a chance for Rudd to diverse himself and shine in a genre that he isn’t exactly known for, and even though the direction does him little favors in terms of character development, Rudd supplants enough range to silence the doubters. In particular, Rudd’s surprising success vocalizing a wide range of accents are authentic enough to pay respects to the real life Berg, who went through endless training to attain his transformation.
– Strong camera work all around. The war scenes feel claustrophobic, following our leads with dedicated conviction, and the character exchanges off the field of battle revolve circularly around them to reflect the passing and race against the clock.
– As a biopic, it’s certainly true that The Catcher Was A Spy is a deeply flawed movie, but as a character roarschach test during the World War II era, it specializes on leaving mystery to the man to even make the audience question his directions. What this does in terms of benefit is firmly establish the uncertainty that filled the air during such a trivial time in our world’s history, feeding into the very mystery surrounding the job of being a spy.
– Television movie-of-the-week production values. This film is cut short around nearly every corner; poor interior lighting, choppy editing that feel like they cut scenes in half, and most obviously these tight shots of battlefield backdrops that relate how cost-cutting this whole thing truly is. Perhaps the budget was spent on the deep ensemble cast for the movie, because on camera it’s simply not there.
– The screenplay feels like a bunch of scattered puzzle pieces that never form a bigger picture when put together. What’s even further troubling is that there is no weight that carries over to the next scene to keep you interested. Everything feels like it continuously starts over the train of momentum, and it flies off of its tracks and derails each and every time.
– Perhaps my biggest trouble with the film is the overwhelming amount of time dedicated to the uncertainty of Moe’s love life, instead of elevating this as the spy thriller of sorts that the film’s excitement level so desperately needs. Not that this angle is reached with a level of success. This film very much drops the ball on understanding gay relationships during such a time period, but burden of repetition from a surface level only, doesn’t do enough to withstand any waning interest in the film.
– Cringing dialogue. I could mention a few different line reads during this film, but only one truly awful line is so bad to sum up everything that the script harvests. Moe is asked by a captain “Are you a Jew?”, to which Moe replies “Ehhhhh Jew-ish”. I slapped my head three times after hearing this, and you should too.
– Much of the film’s miniscule run time of 89 minutes does favors for the often-times sluggish pacing, but it works dramatically against learning anything beyond the Wikipedia summary about Moe the person. Far often, he lacks the kind of personal reflection from being saddled in a foreign land that you don’t ever get the chance to feel empathy for his disposition of having to give up the game he loves.
– From a baseball aesthetic and fact checker, the film gets everything wrong about the lone professional baseball scene in the movie. From the lack of names mentioned during commentary, to the incorrect caps and jersey’s used for the particular time period, this film stumbles on even the smallest of details, plaguing it again to its cheap production that distances itself from that big screen feel.