The Catcher in a Bad Movie


Paul Rudd is putting on a serious persona to play a Jewish man on a mission to assassinate a German scientist during the Second World War. Christian Tesfaye found its theme confused, awarding 4 out of 10 stars.

United States Vice President Mike Pence announced plans last week for the establishment of a sixth United States military force, the space force, to retain American dominance in space. The parody-worthy designation aside, given current antagonisms and polarisation around the world, and the kind of protectionist nation the US now prefers to be it is not a bad idea.

As in peace, technological advancement is highly beneficial during times of war. And despite how many movies and books have tried to glamorise comradeship, bravery and morality of the Allies during the Second World War, what spelled the defeat of the Axis Powers was the Allied Powers’ higher manufacturing capacity and superiority when it came to cryptanalysis and atomic science.

The Catcher Was a Spy reflects somewhat on this theme. The biographical movie is precisely about what the title suggests. The catcher is a baseball player who became a spy once World War II began.

Paul Rudd plays Morris “Moe” Berg, a middle-aged, unmarried, moderately talented baseball player who can speak several languages and had graduated from Princeton University and Colombia Law School.

Moe has secrets – how this movie got by Matti Cinema’s censors, I am not sure – to hide that could get him in serious danger if he were ever to come out back in the early 1940s. An often lonely man and a non-practicing Jew, many of his choices seem to be carefully coordinated to keep him busy from reflecting too much on his unorthodox desires as a man.

The conflicts present an opportunity to internalise more. He joins the war effort but only gets a desk job at first. He yearns for fieldwork and then gets his wish. What presents the opportunity is the discovery that the nucleolus of an atom can be split into smaller particles.

By the late 1930s, nuclear fission of heavy elements was discovered by German scientists. In layman parlance, such nuclear fission releases a tremendous amount of energy that is as destructive as it is awesome.

The famed physicist Werner Heisenberg was leading the German nuclear weapons project. Heisenberg was a highly-regarded German scientist who formulated the scientific concept of the principle of uncertainty. He proved that it is impossible to know the exact location of a particle at the same time as its momentum, thereby determining that there is a limit to the amount of knowledge humans are destined to acquire about their universe.

Moe’s mission was to discover if the German’s are any closer to developing a nuclear weapon. If there is any chance of this, he has been ordered to assassinate the acclaimed and gifted physicist. There is a dilemma at the heart of the movie.

It has long been evident that individuals with the most gifted minds are not necessarily the most virtuous. But then again, the pieces of discoveries that geniuses such as Heisenberg make are the foundations of civilisations, not to mention that they supply us with an understanding of our unrelentingly complicated reality.

Why reality has to be complicated, I am not sure. Most of us have given up on trying to understand physics ever since Albert Einstein told us over a century ago that time is relative. But the human endeavour to understand its place in the universe must continue and, sadly enough, it is a job for a select few that have the patience to undertake the journey.

It is a hard decision that Moe was tasked to undertake, but the film merely recognises this circumstance. The film does not make up its mind. At times it tries to draw attention to the loneliness and lack of belonging that Moe experiences.

At another time, it is about the kinship the protagonist develops for Heisenberg. When not concerned with either of these plots, the film tries to be an excursion into human psychology where the question is whether or not Heisenberg would develop a nuclear weapon.

Rudd acts beside accomplished actors such as Jeff Daniels, Tom Wilkinson, Guy Pearce and Paul Giamatti. Some of his European accents are atrocious and he seems out of place in the movie. Just under the surface though is an actor that tried.

If the film was not so confused, and Rudd was afforded some guidance, he could have done a great job. Like Moe in the movie, Rudd is a lonely man left to fend mostly for himself in a movie that neither understands itself nor even seems to want to.


Published on Aug 11,2018 [ Vol 19 ,No 954]



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