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Film / The Catcher Was a Spy

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The Catcher Was a Spy is a 2018 World War II spy thriller and biopic directed by Ben Lewin, starring Paul Rudd, Jeff Bridges, Guy Pearce, Paul Giamatti, and Mark Strong. It was adapted from Nicholas Dawidoff's 1994 nonfiction book of the same name.

Moe Berg (Rudd) is a Major League catcher reaching the end of his playing career. Rather than make the shift from playing to coaching, Berg decides to join the Allied war effort and eventually becomes a spy for the OSS, tasked with determining how close Nazi Germany is to developing an atomic bomb.

This film provides examples of:

  • Adapted Out: The film jumps from Berg's time as an analyst to his work in the field in Europe, glossing over the time he spent building US relations with South American countries.
  • Ambiguously Bi: Berg has a very passionate sex scene with his girlfriend Estella Huni, yet it's all but explicitly stated that he's attracted to men and has a one-night stand with Kawabata. He also never marries Estella, is emotionally distant from her, and flatly tells her that he'd rather take a trip without her, so it's never exactly clear whether she's acting as his beard.
  • Armoured Closet Gay: It's implied that Bill Dalton is gay. He sneeringly accuses Berg of being "a queer" and says he refuses to shower with him. Then he's caught stalking Berg.
  • Badass Bookworm: Berg has degrees from Princeton and Columbia and speaks multiple languages. He's also a capable brawler who volunteered to become a spy during World War II.
  • Beware the Quiet Ones: Because Berg spends his time in the Boston Red Sox clubhouse separate from other players and reading foreign newspapers, a rookie teammate suspects him to be a homosexual and a communist. When the teammate decides to tail Berg to prove his suspicions, Berg gets the drop on the much younger and larger man, beats him senseless, and threatens to break his arm to end his career.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: People very frankly point out that Berg being unmarried and Jewish are both unusual in common society. They also openly discuss the possibility that he might be "a queer," something he has to hide if true.
  • Faux Fluency: Berg doesn't speak Japanese but he learns a couple of sentences so he can ask locals to act like he's fluent as part of a prank.
  • Floating Head Syndrome: Paul Rudd's face takes up 90% of the poster.
  • Hiding Behind the Language Barrier: When crossing over from Italy to Switzerland, Berg reveals that he speaks Italian and knows that his guides were thinking of double-crossing him.
  • Informed Judaism: Played for drama. Berg is very secular, and everyone else makes a bigger deal about his religion than he does. When the Princeton choir leads the group in "Battle Hymn of the Republic," his friend apologizes to him, and Berg assures him that even "Onward Christian Soldiers" would have been fine with him.
  • Jumped at the Call: Berg preempts the call. Realizing that war with Japan is becoming imminent, he takes it upon himself to sneak around Tokyo and take film footage of the harbor to provide information of Japan's naval capabilities. He uses this footage to make the case that he should join the American intelligence effort.
  • Omniglot: Berg demonstrates his ability to speak multiple languages, stretching from Western European through to the Middle East, fluently. He also pretends to speak Japanese to mess with other baseball players while on a trip to Japan.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Contemplating having to kill Heisenberg, the committedly secular Berg actually attends a synagogue.
  • Self-Deprecation: When playing baseball with servicemen, Berg admits that his batting average is pretty mediocre for a professional. He still slams a home run on his first swing off the soldier's limp pitch.
  • Smart People Play Chess: Heisenberg challenges Berg to a game of mental chess. Berg defeats him, and they speak in chess metaphors throughout their final scene.
  • Violence Is Disturbing: Berg delivers a ruthless No-Holds-Barred Beatdown to Bill Dalton, then stumbles away and has a panic attack.