Film review: Moneyball
Sporting themed films are funny things. More often than not it's the more peculiar sports that tend to do better on film than some of the more well known. For example the world of bobsledding (Cool Runnings), ten-pin bowling (The Big Lebowski) and dodgeball (Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story), have proved to be bigger hits than films about mainstream sports like American football, tennis and football.
There have been plenty of films about the popular sport of baseball for instance, but the best one stars Kevin Costner; as it happens you can take your pick between Bull Durham and Field of Dreams. To be honest, it's pretty amazing that there have been two really good films about baseball when you consider its nothing more than a game of professional rounders. What's more there's now a third title to add to that list. This one.
If this film is anything to go by, managers of major league baseball teams don't really have that much say about the players they have. There's a whole backroom team devoted to scouting the best talent out there and getting them on the team. This team, as well as the manger to a certain extent, answer to the GM: General Manager.
The GM for Oakland Athletics is Billy Beane (Brad Pitt); Billy has the edge over a lot of his peers, as he used to be a professional player himself. In 2001 the Athletics had a pretty formidable team which managed to make the play-off's, only to get beaten by the New York Yankees. Their success ended up being detrimental to the team though, as a number of their best players were bought by the bigger clubs. Despite the cash injection, due to the size of the club, it was impossible to buy big named stars.
Even though his team did incredibly well, Billy wasn't satisfied. In his mind, the only teams that anyone remembers are the championship winners. He feels that the game is far from a level playing field and that there's no way of winning with the system they've got. Then he meets fresh-faced Peter Brand (Jonah Hill).
A graduate of Yale in economics, Peter has a completely different spin on the game. He believes in a system that's based purely on maths and not on performance. Billy is so intrigued by the system that he hires Peter for his team.
Using Peter's system, Billy decides to buy players that many of whom in the business believe have had their day on the field, one way or another. But on Peter's advice, Billy believes these players are under-valued rather than simply defective. Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman) – the manager of the team – disagrees. And he's not the only one. With everyone on his back saying that baseball is more than just a numbers game, Billy and Peter go out to prove them all wrong.
Any film about baseball is a hard sell, and that's true of one that even has Brad Pitt starring in it. For one thing, the only real love interest in this film is the one between Pitt's character and the sport of baseball. To make matters worse, Pitt doesn't take his top off at any time throughout.
The only real consolation is that there's actually very little of the sport seen itself. So what's left is essentially a lot of guys hanging around talking about baseball. This film would most definitely struggle to get to first base with audiences if it wasn't for the writing. The screenplay was written by the formidable pairing of Steve Zaillian (Schindler's List and Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing,The Social Network); it's an unlikely alliance, but with the coming together of this Hollywood dream team, greatness comes.
They're certainly aided some by the fact that it's based on a real story. But it gloriously comes to life in the dialogue. There's just a richness to it that is sorely missed in other films. There's nothing forced about it, and it just has an entertaining rhythm all of its own that just keeps hitting gems out of the park.
That's not taking anything from some superb performances. Pitt, who is obviously paid the big bucks to give larger than life performances, manages to tap into the nuances of the everyman with charming subtlety. His sidekick Jonah Hill also does well, honing that comedic skill of his to the full.
The only slight let down is that of Hoffman. His role doesn't really amount to much, and there's very little for him to get a hold of. It would have been better to have it go to a far less well known actor to play around with.
And considering that Steven Soderbergh was down to direct this project at one point, Bennett Miller does a swell job for a rookie.
Considering the level of testosterone this film has, and the obvious sports theme, this is a film that will struggle to find a large audience. Yes, even with Brad Pitt in it. The thing is, you don't need to be a fan of Pitt's or baseball to enjoy this; if you have any appreciation for superbly written films and a great cast clearly on top of their particular game, then you're onto a winner with this one.
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