Released: 25 November 2011 (UK)
Directed by: Bennett Miller
Starring: Brad Pitt, Robin Wright
Certificate: 12a (UK)
Cinephiles have for twenty years been unable to resist Brad Pitt. Make him the centerpiece of the story about an underdog baseball team and sign his words Sorkin (The Social Network) and Zaillian (Schindler’s List) and we don’t stand a chance. When, in the film, he asks “How can you not be romantic about baseball?” there really is no defying him – so here goes my love letter.
Pitt’s Billy Beane is the heart and soul of Moneyball, the rock solid heart and soul on which it stands. He is the perfect portrait of a workaday hero – the Oakland A’s assertive general manager with both a failed batting career (which haunts him) and marriage (which doesn’t haunt him) behind him, a clever twelve year old daughter and an undying dream to take his team to the World Series. Between Billy and his prize, though, are seventy-six million dollars. Seventy-six million dollars the Yankees have and he doesn’t, seventy-six million dollars that mean he can’t keep all-star players in Oakland.
Enter Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), an awkward, nerdy economics major with interests in both baseball and mathematics. Together, Billy and he reorganize the A’s, replacing its ex-stars by examining nothing but the team’s aggregate statistics before and after their departure. Building a baseball team based solely on numbers. They unsurprisingly face resistance and criticism from the gut-driven head hunters, managers, fans and journalists, and Moneyball is the true account of how hard they pushed.
And yeah, it’s about baseball. It’s about baseball, and about a man, a father, with a dream, and taking chances, about the revolution of an American tradition. It’s about telling a story you’ll remember. Pitt, it isn’t hard to imagine, is note-perfect – perhaps giving the best lead performance of his career. When he rhetorically asks the aforementioned “romantic about baseball” question, he, with his attempted cynicism and clumsily hidden sentimentality, sums up a man’s lifetime of struggling between firm confidence and self-doubt. It’s a subtle but powerful moment – one of the best of 2011 cinema.
Jonah Hill as Beane’s right arm and Philip Seymour Hoffman as the team’s manager who is deeply (and understandably) angry with the way Beane is running things provide impressive back-up and, despite being two eccentric characters with no storyline of their own, succeed at making the most of their screen time without slipping into caricature. But, if Brad is the film’s GM, screenwriters Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian are its MVPs. While the script is not a showcase of fast wit and catchy lines, it is astonishingly well paced, reaching point B from point A without a flinch, never allowing in a misplaced word or a misused pause. Or any of the sport movie clichés. The bottom line is Moneyball is great storytelling. It’s human and it’s poignant, and you won’t be able to fend off the chills – even if you’ve never been to a ball game.
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