Moneyball (2011) Review (R)
Moneyball was a bit of a surprise to me, even though I had heard it was a good film. It’s a sports movie, but isn’t about any kind of on-the-field heroics of the athletes that play the sport of baseball. It’s more about the behind the scenes workings; the business side.
The story itself is one that has built-in pitfalls. How does one make the business of baseball interesting to people that might not be interested in baseball? Writers Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin did an admirable job making the viewer care about the business side, as well as the statistical theories spouted by Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) during the proceedings. The first thing they do is spell out what is at the heart of the story as the film opens; that the business of baseball is not a level playing field. This is highlighted by the two teams vying for the World Series in the year that the film starts with. One team, the New York Yankees, has a player payroll well over a hundred million, essentially tripling that of their overmatched opponent, the Oakland Athletics. To top that off, after losing the World Series, the A’s are faced with losing (and replacing) their three top players to other teams that operate in bigger markets (including the Yankees). Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane, Oakland’s general manager in a contract year. He realizes that he can’t compete with the bigger market teams within the traditional mode of thinking, but when he begins trying to find an alternative he succeeds only in alienating those within his organization. The potential new avenue comes along in the form of Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), an economics major that’s working for a rival, the Cleveland Indians. Liking what he has to say about player performance- salary ratios, Beane essentially ‘buys’ Brand from the Indians and puts him to work finding the best talent for the best price to build a team with. Trust me, it’s much more involving than the way I’m making it sound. Making the ‘problems’ of millionaires feel like an underdog story was an accomplishment in and of itself, but the human element is what makes the film worthwhile. I think the writers and director Bennett Miller did about as well as they could with that aspect of the story. You get a good sense of what drives the protagonist; his ambitions and regrets… The film succeeds both at telling a good, suspenseful story.
Pitt continues to prove that he’s a pretty good actor. His character didn’t require a drastic change of persona, but he does manage to put quite a few subtle tics/behaviors into the character. I think his posture and way of carrying himself in the movie resembled many of the baseball players I grew up knowing. There are certain types of ball players that carry themselves in a certain way as to be recognizable even without the uniform. It’s sort of like being able to recognize doctors or a military person when they’re away from the trappings of their career if that makes any sense. Some ball players do carry themselves a certain way and Pitt does a great job of putting that forth. That he’s portraying a former player turned general manager is all the more noteworthy, at least to me it is.
Jonah Hill is still Jonah Hill, but it’s strange not to hear the ‘F’ word coming out of his mouth with each sentence. He’s pretty good here, even if he still behaves like Jonah Hill sans cursing. He doesn’t have to do as much as Pitt here other than to look awkward/slightly nervous, but he’s solid.
While I think the film was directed well and all of the the actors did a pretty good job, I did think that they could’ve tried a little harder to get people that resembled the actual participants in the story. Art Howe (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) probably got the worst treatment. I assure you, he’s a better coach than the idiot jerk he’s portrayed as in the film. He’s also in far better shape than Hoffman at a much more advanced age. The pudgey Hoffman isn’t a good reflection of the square jawed Howe. Stephen Bishop did a little better having a similar swing, although he resembled David Justice in no way at all. Does all of this matter? To me, yes. If you do a sports film, you have to get the sports part right. For the most part, they do. It’s a film about statistics, but it held my interest. It won’t replace my favorite baseball film (the Natural), but it’s right up there in quality. It even made my ‘Best 10 Films of 2011‘ list…