The relatively unknown baseball-player-turned-WWII-spy Moe Berg receives his cinematic due with the unremarkable The Catcher Was a Spy. It’s a less than passable espionage thriller watered down by a vague character study. Blandly directed by Ben Lewin (The Sessions) and written by Saving Private Ryan screenwriter Robert Rodat, the film wastes its impressive cast on hackneyed genre kicks. The most tragic casualty of Lewin’s unfocused film is Sienna Miller—she deserves better than playing the overlooked romantic partner of isolated heroes and American snipers.
A committed but miscast Paul Rudd infuses the Boston Red Sox’s middling catcher with his dude-next-door amiability. Aptly nicknamed “Professor” thanks to his Princeton education and formidable language skills, Berg upkeeps a secretive life despite nosy teammates and his marriage-minded girlfriend’s (Miller) attempts at intimacy. After foresightedly filming Tokyo’s shipyards during a friendly baseball tour at the brink of the war, Berg catches the eye of OSS chief William Donovan (Jeff Daniels). He’s soon recruited to tail and possibly assassinate Werner Heisenberg (Mark Strong), a renowned nuclear scientist who might be building a catastrophic A-bomb for the Nazis.
Catcher maintains an agreeable pace in charting Berg’s meandering journey in Europe without nailing the intellectual polish or high-stakes tension of The Imitation Game, a comparable wartime biography done with significantly more panache. A clumsily filmed battle scene in Italy and a pair of potentially rich, but frustratingly underexplored plot threads (around Berg’s Jewish identity and frequently teased closeted homosexuality) don’t help.