Sunday, July 1, 2018

The Catcher Was a Spy: Movie Review

Fascinating story, interesting style.

The Catcher Was a Spy is a curiously good movie. Not quite a biopic, not quite a spy thriller, it’s actually the best of both worlds. The look of a spy thriller with charcoal fedoras and charcoal suits lit up only by street lamps and the occasional car headlight combined with the content of a biopic, and very importantly, using the intelligence of a smart character. 2018

Directed by: Ben Lewin

Screenplay by: Robert Rodat
Based on the book by Nicholas Dawidoff

Starring: Paul Rudd, Mark Strong, Jeff Daniels

Moe Berg (Paul Rudd) was a catcher, he was also a spy, and he was also highly educated, with revered intellect, fluency in seven languages, and an interest in world history and human nature. Those are the known facts about him. There is just as much unknown. IFC likes advertising for the film describing Berg as an enigma. Was he gay? Maybe. What actually went down with Werner Heisenberg? The film takes an interesting stab at the answer.

After a quick flashforward to help hook the audience, the film begins in Boston in 1936. Moe Berg was a catcher for the Red Sox, and as he implies throughout the film, wasn’t a great player – just a competent one. The use of humour was great, the few jokes all landed. The humour was never used to break the tension, but served as a very useful reminder that this isn’t a suspenseful, heart-stopping spy thriller, this is a based-on-a-true-story drama about one man who isn’t remembered from history and his eventual meeting with another man who is.

Paul Rudd is an excellent pick for the lead as Moe Berg and played it to perfection. He has the natural knack for comedy, and his unassuming nature worked very well to lend credibility to Berg’s high intellect. It is Berg’s intellect after all that lands him a job with the United States government during World War II, commissioned to kill Werner Heisenberg - the highly-esteemed German physicist who was reportedly creating an atomic bomb for Germany.

What happens after will likely divide audiences. Those wanting a cut-and-dry spy thriller will be disappointed. Instead Berg decides to play a game of intellectual wits with Werner Heisenberg, in what is ultimately an interesting biopic about the enigma that is Moe Berg.

There are a few clunky transitions at the beginning and a war scene, arguably necessary, but adds nothing to the film that could derail a few viewers. For the rest of us who find Berg fascinating, The Catcher Was a Spy is a worthwhile film, both stylish and smart, well made and interestingly told. Based on my limited knowledge of Moe Berg, probably exactly the type of movie he would want himself.