Director Bennett Miller does a great job at making all of the statistical mumbo jumbo interesting and aside from playing too closely to the clichés and the jarring tonal shifts, it’s a solid film that I’m sure will appeal to a lot of people’s sensibilities.
(Review re-posted as Moneyball is in UK cinema's today) Ill admit it. Theres nothing that interests me less than sports movies. No wait, there is something, that would be inspirational sports movies based on true stories. Lets just say when my editor Mr Holmes told me I should attend the premiere of one of the biggest US films at the festival I trotted along pretty hesitantly. As Im sure you can see by the score, it was much better than I thought it would be, though by no means a revelation. Moneyball is a movie about baseball. Im a British guy who pretty much hates all sports and couldnt show less interest in them if I tried. Seriously, Ive tried. Anyway, for those of you have never seen a baseball game before, I can tell you that they are excruciatingly dull. They are in no way as dynamic as they seem on the big screen. The big screen cuts out all the fucking waiting. Baseball is a game made up of waiting... And I thought cricket was bad. However, Moneyball came as something of a relief when it chose to spend as little time out on the field as possible, and instead focus on what happens at the behind-the-scenes level, in terms of managing the team. The Columbia Pictures movie chronicles the true tale of Oakland As manager Billy Beane who transformed a struggling baseball team by adopting a complex statistics system based on computer-generated analysis to draft his players. Its the inspirational true story with movie star Brad Pitt as Beane overcoming the odds and trying to change the face of baseball by taking an intelligent approach to his incredibly underfunded team. This is a true story, so if you follow baseball then you probably know how this one plays out. Its worth noting that the film is surprisingly slow for what is ostensibly, a movie targeted at mainstream audiences. There actually isnt much action in the film at all and there is a surprising amount of time spent with Brad Pitt as he broods in his car. Or his office. Or his home. Or broods in his car while driving. You havent seen this much brooding since Twilight. At the same time though Brad Pitt creates a man who emits an aura of confidence and supreme charm when he is faced with others, though when he is on his own he is often teetering on the edge, tortured by his own past failings. We are treated to flashbacks of Beane ruining his early career, but they could probably be omitted and you wouldnt really notice. Ultimately Moneyball is propelled by the script, written by Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network, A Few Good Men) and Steven Zaillan (American Gangster, Schlinder's List). It is a little saddening to see that Mr Sorkins usual razor sharp wit and machine gun patter is upsettingly absent, but the script serves its purpose. It takes a very complicated subject that wouldnt be of interest to a lot of others and moulds it into something relatable. Much like Sorkin did last year with The Social Network, minus the brilliance. Moneyball is a film that is entirely conventional, but made entertaining not by its premise, but by the performances and the chemistry between actors, especially that of Brad Pitt and his sidekick Jonah Hill. The comedy comes from a very natural place and the film tends to make you laugh on several occasions. We already know Pitt plays the man seething with an undercurrent of rage and pride well, he did the same character with far more nuance and less mainstream appeal in the sensational Tree Of Life; and Jonah Hill plays his perfect foil to Beane in the nervous and intelligent number cruncher that is Peter Brand. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is almost unrecognisable and has such little to do here its a wonder why he signed on at all other than perhaps as a favour to director Bennett Miller who directed him in his Oscar winning turn in Capote, which changed his career. Admittedly I knocked this film down half a point because towards the end it sunk into the depths of sickeningly sweet sentimentality that left a bad taste in my mouth. It was just all a little too convenient and contrived and Beanes character just wasnt scripted well enough that, that would be the logical outcome. The outcome fitted the cliché handbook, but in terms of actually suiting the story and the character we as a viewer just spent the last 2 hours plus with? It just didnt feel natural and subverts its own message.
Moneyball is an entertaining romp that Im sure will play well to theatres when it gets its major release. Miller does a great job at making all of the statistical mumbo jumbo interesting and aside from playing too closely to the clichés and the jarring tonal shifts (drifting off into broodiness/sentimentality on a whim all too often) its a solid film that Im sure will appeal to a lot of peoples sensibilities. Certainly more than mine. Moneyball is out now in the UK.