Friday, 30 December 2011

Moneyball (2011)

All in the game

Image: W. W. Norton

Moneyball is a tough sell to UK audiences. Yes, Brad Pitt’s in it, but it’s a film about how two men used statistics to succeed in baseball. So, let’s review: statistics...and baseball. Wait, it’s good!

Billy Beane (Pitt) is the GM of the Oakland Athletes, a team that can never compete with the big dogs because they’ve got no money. Then he meets Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), an economics major who tells him that he’s been going about things the wrong way. If he uses equations and statistics to find the most valuable players, he’ll find that they’re not the big stars. They’re the “Island of Misfit Toys.”

Baseball’s popular here in the UK. But if anyone’s going to pique our interest in the American Pastime, it’s Aaron Sorkin. The script, co-written with Steve Zaillian, does not pander to the audience and director Bennett Miller (Capote) keeps things impressively low-key. For the first twenty minutes or so, it doesn’t even throw them many zingers. What it does is show quite how far these guys went out on a limb. Not only were they going against the established ideas, they were upsetting people by doing so. 

And while it may throw those of us who aren’t baseball-literate in the deep end somewhat at the start, the slow build allows time to make sure that we’re up to speed (well, up to speed enough anyway). Interestingly, the film has little to no interest in any of the characters’ lives outside of the ballpark. We get some scenes with Billy’s ex (Robin Wright) and precocious daughter (Kerris Dorsey), but the rest is all about the game.

Pitt is well-cast as the likeable but stubborn Beane. It’s not a particularly complex part but he’s a good fit for a character that’s somewhat aloof but charismatic, and he clearly enjoys having some decent dialogue. Hill gives an impressive first dramatic performance and works well against Pitt’s laid-back Robert Redford-type. There’s also a small but effective performance from Philip Seymour Hoffman as the manager who is dead-set against Beane and Brand’s tactics. Finally, special mention goes to Parks and Recreation star Chris Pratt, who adds some much needed warmth and humour as Scott Hatterberg, one of the misfit toys.

It’s a bit of a daunting prospect and it’s not a film we’d recommend if you’re looking for a bit of mindless escapism, but Moneyball is a very well-crafted look at an important part of American sports history. And if you’re not interested in sports history, there’s good actors tearing into well-written scenes. Hard to argue with that.

Verdict: Baseball and statistics might not scream Friday night movie but give Moneyball a chance. By the time the chips are down you’ll suddenly realise how much you care.

4/5

JH

6 comments:

  1. I just watched it. Good movie! "Tyrannosaur" is next.

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  2. Enjoy Tyrannosaur! It's not an easy watch but the performances from Olivia Colman and Peter Mullan are stunning.

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  3. It wasn't easy to get through. But, it's a movie I'd definately watch again at some point. It spoke, and resonated with me on so many different levels.

    Excellent performance by the little boy, Samuel Bottomley,too.

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  4. I wish that they had cast someone who was closer to Billy Beane in spirit as Pitt was somewhat one dimensional, but if you did not read the book it probably won't matter. They needed a big name lead so Pitt was it. Too much stuff about his kid and not enough about the fascinating stuff of baseball stats vs. old school guys. Despite this, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and I still can not think of a replacement for Pitt that fits the demographic and physicality of Beane.

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  5. Totally agree Ellinor, I definitely found it to be a tough film but I didn't think that it deliberately wallowed in the grimness like some critics did.
    As for Billy Beane, I have to be honest and say that I didn't know anything about the real-life story before I heard that the film was being made. I would be interested in reading the book now. I know some people didn't like the scenes with Billy and his daughter but I was struck by how few scenes there were with other characters' lives outside the stadium.

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  6. I thought so as well Jonathan, beacuse in the first scene with Beane's ex-wife, we get the feeling that there's tension between him and the new husband. So we get curious to know what happened. Did he chose he's career over football? But, he seems devoted to his daughter, and she plays a major part in his decision not to move to Boston. Then there's the phone call from the ex-wife where she informes him that they're all sitting at home watching his game. They could have shifted the scene from Pitt in the car to his family at home, for us to get that perspective instead - for a change.

    The lack of other scenes makes the scene with the daughter seem a bit awkward and random because it looks like she was just thrown in there. That's probably why Beane's character or Pitt's performance seems one dimensional; we don't see him in enough different situations to get the feel of what moves him - other than winning the last game of the season.

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