For a movie to combine baseball with World War II, “The Catcher Was a Spy” doesn’t really seem to make a home run. It has a dry complexion that upstages the premise and characters. I was, however, interested in the main character Moe Berg (1902-1972), a baseball catcher, who gets a job working for the OSS during WWII. Paul Rudd does a swell job portraying him, but it’s a shame that he is more interesting than the movie itself.
The mission is simple: Germany may or may not be developing an atomic bomb, courtesy of physicist Werner Heisenberg (Mark Strong). Being that he is a great baseball player, who can speak different languages, like Italian or German, Moe is sent to Switzerland as a spy to kill him, if necessary. But he isn’t sure if Heisenberg is developing a bomb or not.
“The Catcher Was a Spy,” based on Nicholas Dawidoff’s biography, isn’t as awe-inspiring or riveting as it should have been. It’s dry when telling Moe Berg’s baseball story, being that I’ve never heard of him, and neither has my father; and it’s complicated when we don’t know this side of WWII Again, I wanted an informative WWII story, and not just a good looking picture.
There are a lot of elements that are either underwritten or understudied. For example, Moe has a girl back home (Sienna Miller), who has grown estranged from him, mainly because they aren’t married. That never took off for me.
The all-star cast also includes Jeff Daniels as an intelligence officer, who is fascinated in Moe’s work; Tom Wilkinson as a Swiss physicist, who is concerned about Moe planning to meet Heisenberg; Hiroyuki Sanada as a Japanese man, whom Moe meets on his baseball tour, and ponders on whether their friendship can work out or not; Guy Pearce as a civil engineer, and Paul Giamatti as a Dutch-American physicist, both of whom join Moe on his dangerous mission.
Some of them, like Daniels, Wilkinson, and Giamatti, are interesting, while others, like Pearce, just come and go. But there are two performances that such to me. Strong is smart as Heisneberg in the ways he plays his own chess game with Moe. Most of the time, he is able to play convincing characters, whether they’re antagonists or not.
And Rudd, being a funny actor, can also find a dramatic side to him. For example, I loved his 2007 Indie “Diggers,” and for those you who haven’t heard of it, it was about a clam digger in the 1970s, and the friends and struggles he has. It was a smart and funny drama.
“The Catcher Was a Spy” allows him to expand his horizons, but it doesn’t delve deeper into Moe Berg’s life story. It’s practically a 90-minute movie, so things have to rush at times, mostly the baseball side. It’s an attractive film with its classic scenery and decor, but a first-rate WWII drama is much more than that.