Moe Berg was a so-so Major League Baseball player, but it was his other talents that helped him score for the home team on a daring mission during World War II. That story has been brought to the screen by director Ben Lewin (Sessions) and screenwriter Robert Rodat (Saving Private Ryan), basing their largely true account of these events on the bestselling book by Nicolas Dawidoff. Using a noirish style representative of certain films of the 1940s era in which this is set, Lewin does an admirable job separating fact from fiction in telling the incredible story of this Jewish baseball player who crossed enemy lines in 1944 on a mission to kill the head of Germany’s atomic bomb program.
Rudd, a baseball freak in real life, believably steps into the role of Berg with a nicely understated performance as this highly intelligent athlete who spoke nine languages, appeared on brainy quiz shows and realized the world was on the precipice of a major war even before it broke out. While on a major league outing to Japan, he even secretly shot photos of some sites that appeared to be top secret. When Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941, Berg took that evidence to the feds and director William Donavan (Jeff Daniels), who naturally was impressed by his abilities to do this kind of espionage.
Joined by a physicist (Paul Giamatti) in Italy, Berg takes on an assignment to cross enemy lines in that country and head to Switzerland, where he is to possibly kill Werner Heisenberg (Mark Strong), said to be developing Germany’s atomic bomb, if he can prove the Germans actually are on the road to beating America in developing the ultimate weapon of war. That is the basic plotline here, but it has been filled out with other details of Berg’s life including hazy indications that this catcher-turned-spy was gay, or at least bisexual. That part seemed somewhat superfluous to the more compelling matter at hand: a baseball player who could become a WWII hero for the Allies.
What Lewin also has done very effectively is in the casting of every part, no matter how small. Guy Pearce is lively as a warrior guiding Berg through treacherous battlefields. Connie Nielsen, Shea Whigham, Sienna Miller, Giancarlo Giannini and Tom Wilkinson are also among the international cast that has been assembled here, and as I say in my video review above, each has a moment to shine, as does the cinematography of Andrij Parekh and production design of Luciana Arrighi. Producers are Kevin Scott Frakes, Tatiana Kelly, Buddy Patrick, and Jim Young. IFC releases the film, which premiered at Sundance, on Friday in theaters. It is also on VOD.
Do you plan to see The Catcher Was a Spy? Let us know what you think.