THE CATCHER WAS A SPY
(director: Ben Lewin; screenwriters: Robert Rodat, based on the book by Nicholas Dawidorf “The Catcher Was a Spy: The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg; cinematographer: Andrij Parekh; editor: Mark Yoshikawa; music: Howard Shore; cast: Paul Rudd (Moe Berg), Guy Pearce (Robert Furman), Paul Giamatti (Sam Goudsmit), Mark Strong (Werner Heisenberg), Tom Wilkinson (Paul Scherrer), Jeff Daniels (Bill Donovan), Sienna Miller (Estella), Pierfrancesco Favino (Martinuzzi), Connie Nielsen (Koranda), Shea Whigham (Joe Cronin), Giancarlo Giannini (Professor Amaldi), Hiroyuki Sanada (Kawabata); Runtime: 98; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Kevin Frakes, Tatiana Kelly, Buddy Patrick, Jim Young; IFC Films; 2018)
“Though a true story that had everything you could possibly want for a thriller, the film lacked drama, lacked action and lacked credibility.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Journeyman Australian director Ben Lewin (“Please Stand By”/”The Sessions”) flatly helms a true story that should have been exciting. It’s based on Moe Berg (Paul Rudd), the Jewish light-hitting Major League catcher, Ivy League grad and holder of a law degree, who spoke fluently as many as 7 languages, including Japanese. Berg doubled during WWII as an American spy. It’s based on Nicholas Dawidoff’s 1994 best-seller “The Catcher Was a Spy: The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg.” It’s thrown out by a shaky script by Robert Rodat. In the mid-1930s Berg was part of an All-Star team playing exhibition games in Japan, and from the roof of the tallest building in Tokyo he took it on his own to film shipyards, industrial complexes and military installations on his personal movie camera, and then presented the footage to American intelligence.After Pearl Harbor, Berg talked Office of Strategic Services Chief William “Wild Bill” Donovan (Jeff Daniels) into using him as a spy for the agency.In 1944, Berg was given a special mission: to infiltrate the Nazi atomic bomb program, uncover what the Nazi top-scientist Werner Heisenberg (Mark Strong), who won the Nobel Prize in 1932 for pioneering quantum physics, was up to, and possibly assassinate him if he found out the bomb he was working on was soon in the works. Berg goes on the European mission with the help of Manhattan Project big-shot Robert Furman (Guy Pearce) and Dutch-American physicist Samuel Goudsmit (Paul Giamatti), and contacts Heisenberg in Zurich. The mission couldn’t be more boring, with tedious ‘egghead’ discussions and endless dinner parties. Though a true story that had everything you could possibly want for a thriller, the film lacked drama, lacked action and lacked credibility (even if true). It never captured the imagination of what an espionage adventure should be. It also left us hanging on whether Berg, a multi-layered professor-like character, was a homosexual as rumored (even though he had a gf (Sienna Miller)–maybe for show) or how being Jewish created problems for him on the ballfield.
REVIEWED ON 4/1/2019 GRADE: C https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/