‘The Catcher Was a Spy’ retells mysterious tale of WWII figure | ParkRecord.com

‘The Catcher Was a Spy’ retells mysterious tale of WWII figure

In his Sundance Film Festival feature "The Catcher Was a Spy," director Ben Lewin overcomes the challenging task of retelling the true story of enigmatic figure Moe Berg during World War II.

"I think a lot of work went into rediscovering this mysterious man who morphed himself from a baseball player into a spy," Lewin said in an interview from Santa Monica, California.

"The Catcher Was a Spy" follows Berg's tale as he transitions from major league ballplayer into a spy for the Office of Security Services, a predecessor to the Central Intelligence Agency. The film stars Paul Rudd, as Berg, as well as Jeff Daniels, Guy Pierce, Paul Giamatti and Sienna Miller.

Berg, described as someone extremely intelligent who speaks nine languages, is recruited to stop German scientist Werner Heisenberg before he can build an atomic bomb for the Nazi regime, according to Sundance's film program.

The role required Rudd to interpret a character that was not easily understood, Lewin said. He added, "Even the expert in the field couldn't really explain him." The film is adapted from Nicholas Dawidoff's 1994 biography of the same name.

"That was the challenge: to bring some kind of tangible reality to a man that was not popularly described by anyone in words," he said. "Moe Berg was man with a facade, and there is a subtle way of playing that role. There is also kind of crude way of playing a man with two faces, and he (Rudd) represented a really unexpected take.

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"I guess eventually we stopped tormenting ourselves in discovering who was this mystery man and allowed Paul (Rudd) to play the character that was naturally created," he added.

The film only provides a glimpse into the life of Berg, Lewin said, adding, "It doesn't pretend to tell his whole life or be a Wikipedia view of him." As a filmmaker, the goal with a biopic is to recapture the most important journey the character took, and Lewin said heinstantly realized that the film is a regular World War II spy thriller. It represents an area he is particularly interested in portraying.

But, Berg is the most "untypical spy that you could imagine," he said.

"That really was the writer's approach to the overall subject and our approach, as well," Lewin said.

Casting for the film was a "very serendipitous process," Lewin said. As he learned more about Rudd, he realized he was the right actor to play the unexpected personality of Berg.

Daniels and Pearce play seasoned spies and Giamatti a Dutch physicist. Miller plays Berg's love interest.

Lewin said he hopes to provide the audience with a sense of discovery and desire to want to know more about the unique character of Berg. He said the film also surprisingly has a renewed relevance because of the current political climate surrounding nuclear weapons.

"This story is about the origins of the atomic bombs and the beginnings of the nuclear age," he said. "When you look at the film in relation to what is going on in with North Korea, you think there is a sort of relevance to this story right now that maybe we didn't anticipate. I think, hopefully, there is an underlying anti-war message in the movie. "

"The Catcher Was a Spy" is the director's second film to appear at the Sundance Film Festival. His film "The Sessions," starring John Hawkes and Helen Hunt, premiered in 2012. It won an Audience Award and a Special Jury Prize for ensemble acting.

“The Catcher Was a Spy” is being screened in the Sundance Film Festival’s Premieres category. It will be shown:

  • Friday, Jan. 19, 8:30 p.m., at the Park City Municipal Athletic and Recreation Center
  • Wednesday, Jan. 24, 6:30 p.m., at the Eccles Theatre in Park City
  • Thursday, Jan. 25, 9 a.m., at the Eccles Theatre in Park City
  • Saturday, Jan. 27, 5:30 p.m., at the Park City Municipal Athletic and Recreation Center
  • Sunday, Jan. 28, 6:15 p.m., at The Grand Theatre in Salt Lake City