Actor Jon Hamm is backing Indian baseball player Rinku Singh's petition to gain citizenship in the U.S. after portraying the sportsman's agent in the biographical movie Million Dollar Arm. The Mad Men star reveals he has kept in touch with 26-year-old Singh, one of the subjects of the Disney film, and has even penned a formal message of support to U.S. immigration authorities championing his bid to make America his permanent home.
He says, "I've seen Rinku. In fact, I've written a letter sponsoring his citizenship to the States.
"I do follow his story and I do wish him the best. He's been injured - he injured his elbow pitching - so hopefully he will come back stronger from that injury and make the Majors. That would be a wonderful coda (end to his story)."
Hamm plays top agent J.B. Bernstein in the sports drama, which chronicles his discovery of Indian cricketers Singh and Dinesh Patel through a 2008 reality TV contest and his efforts to turn them into baseball pitchers in America.
Both men went on to play for the Pittsburgh Pirates, where Singh is still signed.
Singh was portrayed onscreen by Life of Pi star Suraj Sharma, while Slumdog Millionaire actor Madhur Mittal played Patel.
Walt Disney Studios via Everett Collection
Million Dollar Arm takes a lot for granted when it comes to its audience. It assumes that anyone paying to see this film must care about baseball. Odds are it's right — you've got to have some motivating factor beyond Jon Hamm's jawline. But it assumes you care enough that it doesn't matter how little its characters seem to. We see so few instances involving any carnal appreciation for the game throughout the bulk of the picture, least of all from cranky and materialistic sports agent J.B. Bernstein (Hamm), that when the final act treats us to its coup de grâce tearjerkers we can't help but feel like we're being thrown one hell of a curveball.
But that isn't the worst of the film's assumptions. As a last ditch effort to find a ringer both talented and bankable enough to save his career, J.B. throws caution to the wind and high tails it to India on a scouting mission for strong-armed cricket bowlers. So casually racist that you'd think this film takes place long before 2008, J.B. hates everything about cricket (...why?) and India on the whole, submitting immediately to the idea that he's in a third-rate wasteland where nothing can get done, nobody knows anything, and any young boy would be elated to get out of dodge. And Million Dollar Arm has no interest in proving him wrong: The film never second-guesses (and assumes we won't either) the notion that Big Leagues hopefuls Dinesh (Madhur Mittal) and Rinku (Suraj Sharma) would be happier and better off in America. It assumes we won't take any issue with the idea that two boys from India must have never seen an elevator, a television, or a moment of good fortune. Sure, they might not have... but it's as if Million Dollar Arm expects us to believe there is no other option when a wide-eyed Sharma wanders through a Californian hotel like Wall-E exploring the starliner.
Walt Disney Studios via Everett Collection
The film gives itself so much regrettable leeway while carting through the necessary points of its true story, jumping from the laughable inception of J.B.'s plan to move his search overseas to the languid introduction of the two boys (neither of whom is given any backstory) and their entry into the MLB's consideration. But scattered throughout are beats and scenes that seem ripped from a different script entirely — J.B.'s gradual appreciation of Dinesh, Rinku, and much bemoaned translator, documentarian, and aspiring baseball coach Amit (Pitobash Tripathy) as his surrogate family. Of course the vast majority of his emotional realizations come at the behest of his beautiful, kooky tenant Brenda (Lake Bell), but the kids are usually at least nearby.
It's shocking how much the personal material does to salvage Million Dollar Arm, though. J.B.'s relationship with Dinesh, Rinku, and Amit, and — perhaps more importantly — the relationships between Dinesh, Rinku, and Amit themselves are funny, warm, and flavorful enough to give this otherwise faceless movie some real character. Secondary players Bill Paxton and Alan Arkin do little to surprise, playing disgruntled and unconscious respectively, but there's a reason these guys are always called on to do the same thing. And if that's not enough for you, Aasif Mandvi's kids keep throwing up. It plays both like an extended metaphor about the hidden joys in family life and a non sequitur gag from Tomcats. Take your pick.
Million Dollar Arm's charming points are strong enough to distract at times from its boisterous misgivings, but they peer through in the end. Not every baseball movie needs hair-tustling and eye-welling. Not every baseball movie warrants a Pride of the Yankees elegy about the glories of the diamond. But Million Dollar Arm wishes it was one of these movies (so much so that it actually rips the Lou Gehrig speech right out of Gary Cooper's mouth). Still, instead of building a story about the love of baseball or even about the magic of this story, Million Dollar Arm keeps all its genuine energy on a bunt: the story of some jackass who warms up to a couple of kids after a while. Not a bad play, but hardly the grand slam it was going for.
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Based on the novel Q&A this sharp adaptation tells the tale of a young man Jamal Palik (Dev Patel) who becomes a contestant on the Indian version of the hit game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and ends up being accused of cheating. As we see him beaten into admitting that he “knew” the answers the film darts back and forth in time to show how he came to this place and exactly where the truth lies. We see how Jamal and his brother Salim (Madhur Mittal) joined by their female friend Latika (Freida Pinto) grow up in one of the country’s worst slums where they must resort to a spree of petty crimes in order to survive. Later we catch up with them in their teens as they conduct tours of the Taj Mahal and make up tall tales for the unsuspecting visitors. Out of desperation their crimes get more intense as Latika gets herself into big trouble. By the time we get to Jamal’s appearance on the game show it’s clear he has learned what really counts as the tension-driven sequences have him answering questions at a furious pace by the dubious quizmaster (Anil Kapoor). Using a cast of largely unknown actors director Danny Boyle has created an ensemble that exudes freshness and vitality. Outstanding performances come from all the kids who play the main characters of Jamal Latika and Salim at three different ages. They are countered by the adults in the story who also make the most of their juicy roles -- particularly Indian superstar Anil Kapoor playing the shady host of the game show. His scenes on set opposite Patel’s 18 year-old Jamal are riveting and suspenseful beyond any thriller. Both actors play a telekinetic cat-and-mouse game with complete believability. Patel is terrific a real find as is the gorgeous Freida Pinto as the older Latika. Equally effective is Madhur Mittal as the crime-bent older Salim. Irrfan Khan as the determined inspector has his own intense moments while interrogating Jamal. Serious-minded movies rarely get to show off such talented younger actors but Slumdog is virtually a treasure trove in this regard. Danny Boyle’s direction is vibrant alive and pulsating with originality. This director has shown great aptitude for tackling all sorts of different genres from the dark drug-filled Trainspotting to the light-hearted family fare Millions. He’s even done zombies with 28 Days Later. With Slumdog the Brit tackles a completely foreign culture to his own and effortlessly engages us in the plight of these characters. The filmmaking is crisp and cutting-edge with an array of colors and editing choices that put us smack into the center of the story. Cutting back and forth seamlessly between the game show tapings and the flashbacks slowly filling in the answers to Jamal’s ultimate fate Boyle has crafted a completely original movie-going experience. Ending it all on an upbeat note there’s a great Bollywood-type pop number that ranks as the best musical sequence we’ve seen on film all year. You are guaranteed to leave the theater on a high.