October 1, 2018  (Web Review)

The Catcher Was a Spy

Paramount, 94 min., R, DVD: $21.99, Oct. 2

Reviewer rating: 2.0/4

Based on Nicholas Dawidoff’s 1994 bestseller The Catcher Was a Spy: The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg, this WWII-era melodrama stars Paul Rudd as the enigmatic Berg, a Renaissance man and Major League Baseball player who graduated from Princeton and earned a law degree from Columbia. Berg read 10 newspapers daily and spoke 12 languages, including Latin, Japanese, Turkish, Sanskrit, and Hindi. Displaying prodigious linguistic skills and remarkable athleticism, he convinced Office of Strategic Services (OSS, the precursor to the CIA) Chief William “Wild Bill” Donovan (Jeff Daniels) that he was ideal for overseas espionage. When Berg played exhibition games in Japan, he climbed to the roof of the tallest building in Tokyo to film shipyards, industrial complexes, and military installations, turning over the valuable undercover footage to the U.S. government. In 1944, Berg was given an important mission: to infiltrate the inner sanctum of the Nazi atomic bomb program, ascertain its progress, and—if necessary—assassinate scientist Werner Heisenberg (Mark Strong), who won the Nobel Prize in 1932 for pioneering quantum physics. Berg was accompanied by military specialist Robert Furman (Guy Pearce) and renowned Dutch-American physicist Samuel Goudsmit (Paul Giamatti). Unfortunately, the superficial script here never captures the elusive essence of Berg, who played down his Jewish faith and hid his rumored homosexuality by courting an attractive piano teacher (Sienna Miller). Filmmaker Ben Lewin fails to generate suspense and relies far too much on text-filled title cards in this movie that keeps more secrets than it reveals. Optional. [Note: DVD extras include deleted scenes (9 min.). Bottom line: a small extras package for a lackluster historical drama.] (S. Granger)