If there are two things that the general moviegoer likes, its spy movies and Paul Rudd. So when news of The Catcher Was A Spy became public, you'd think cinephiles would be psyched to see Rudd in another badass role, alongside his run as Ant-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Unfortunately, those looking for Rudd to use his charm and action experience in a thrilling real-life story will ultimately be disappointed in The Catcher Was A Spy. Because while the titular character is on a dangerous assassination mission at the height of WWII, the stakes feel surprisingly low.
The Catcher Was A Spy tells the real-life story (ish) of pro baseball player turned spy Moe Berg. We meet Berg when he's getting a bit long in the tooth in in the league, and begins to think about what his career might be like in the future. Rather than trying to be gym teacher or team manager, Berg's natural inclination was the still growing CIA. Obviously.
Paul Rudd plays Moe Berg with vague swagger, showing off random skills whenever the plot calls for it. While he repeatedly claims he'slousy ball player, his montage while playing with soldiers makes him seem like a living legend. Berg also spoke a ton of languages, a subject never brought up until he eventually whips them out when trying to get involved in the Office of Strategic Services.
This note seems to plague much of The Catcher Was A Spy, as there's little character development until the time calls for it. We do not meet a young Moe Berg, and watch as he studies and absorbs his myriad languages. We also don't see what it took to get Moe into professional baseball, or how his relationship with girlfriend Estella (Sienna Miller) began.
The overall vagueness of The Catcher Was A Spy includes the protagonist, Paul Rudd's Moe Berg. It's hard to really connect with him or understand his psyche, beyond vague good intentions. He moves across careers and scene partners with relative ease, but also without much character. Moe just seems like a nice guy, but as mysterious to the audience as he is to the real-life figures he interacts with.
The true life concept of The Catcher Was A Spy sounds fascinating: a baseball player joins the CIA, and is tasked with assassinating supposed atomic bomb scientist Werner Heisenberg. Yet the action and high stakes situations feel remarkably casual. While Moe doesn't do a ton of emoting during war scenes and tense espionage, the film's soundtrack doesn't even pick up to help move the audience. The film's final climax is thoroughly underwhelming, possibly asking what the point of the past 98 minutes was.
The Catcher Was A Spy may also have some controversy surrounding it, especially when it comes to the protagonist's sexuality. While Moe Berg has a girlfriend who he loves, their connection is portrayed as almost completely platonic. Moe's apparent conflicted sexuality and same sex attraction makes for some of the film's most tender and emotional moments, although it's unclear if director Ben Lewin and writer Robert Rodat got this from fact, or if it was a question greatly expanded in order to craft a more complex central character. The novel of the same name had no inclusion of this aspect to Moe Berg, despite it being such a major plot point and through line of Catcher Was A Spy's runtime.
Paul Rudd is joined by an impressive supporting cast, who each try to bring their best to their respective roles. Paul Giamatti is probably the biggest scene stealer, as the moral compass character Samuel Goudsmit. Also making appearances are the likes of Jeff Daniels, Connie Nielsen, and Mark Strong. They all bring their signature skill to the table, albeit in a weak project.
The Catcher Was A Spy sounds like an emotional and thrilling ride on paper, but it ends up more weighed down than its protagonist. You can catch the film in limited theaters now.