Directed By: Bennett Miller
Starring: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright, Chris Pratt, Stephen Bishop, Nick Porrazzo, Kerris Dorsey, Reed Thompson
It’s pretty obvious that the sports genre has a tendency to revel in formulaic inspirational storytelling. But, when you’ve got a true story with a happy ending, isn’t that effect almost inherent? According to Moneyball, no. Is that a good thing? It depends what you’re looking for.
Brad Pitt is Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland A’s coming off a hot season. However, as Billy frequently says, nobody remembers you when you lose your last game of the season and in 2001, the A’s lost to the New York Yankees in the playoffs. And that’s not even the worst of it. Billy is about to lose his three hottest players and has just $38 million to recoup his losses, a fraction of the budget of most MLB ball clubs.
In comes Jonah Hill as Peter Brand, a Yale graduate with a pension for baseball. Billy snatches him up from an entry-level position with the Cleveland Indians and makes Peter his assistant GM. Together they use Peter’s computer-based system to put together a championship team on a budget. While most look at players like the injured catcher, Scott Hatteberg (Chris Pratt), and 37-year-old David Justice (Stephen Bishop) as liabilities, Peter and Billy see them as cheap grabs with promising skills.
There’s something inherently rousing about a true story. A real man out there put his job on the line to go with his gut and win big and that effort is commendable. While on-screen Beane’s actions are also admirable, the result isn’t as rousing as you’d expect. As much as we enjoy films like Miracle and Remember the Titans, we can’t help but to poke fun at their over-glorified and cliché presentations. Then again, when it comes to underdog sports films, that’s generally what we’re looking for. In that sense, Moneyball doesn’t deliver in the least and for some that may be disappointing.
On the other hand, what Moneyball does, it does well. Even if you don’t know much about the game, the details are laid out in a simple enough fashion to make them digestible, albeit they aren’t simplified too much for those who are in the know. Both groups will find the concept quite incredible. This “moneyball” technique ultimately changed the business of baseball. For years and years scouts based their judgments on stats, visual impressions and even personal information. However, Peter’s system basically voids scout perception entirely in exchange for mathematical equations and probability. Even more impressive than the format’s timeliness is its ability to give less wealthy teams a shot. The gap between a better funded team like the Yankees and one like the A’s is absolutely astounding.
While it’s great that the facts presented have the power to blow you away, Moneyball gets into trouble because the characters just can’t compare. Every single performance in this film is top notch and incredibly honest, but few but Beane get enough time in the spotlight. Characters like Peter, the A’s manager, Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Hatteberg and Justice all make an impact and earn some sympathy, but there’s room for so much more.
Even Beane, who’s in just about every frame of this film has a tough time making a connection. Sure, we get a ton of information on him in terms of where he’s at presently and how he came to be the GM of the A’s, but we never get access to what’s going on inside his head, leaving the audience emotionally detached. Then, when the film’s big climax arrives, it’s tough to care and when it comes and goes, you’ll find yourself wondering, “Is that it?”
Oddly enough, there’s really no denying that Moneyball is an impeccably made film, technically. The camerawork is gorgeous, director Bennett Miller delivering aesthetically pleasing imagery without a heavy hand on the camera, almost giving the film a documentary-like feel. This works wonders in conjunction with the set design, which is clearly done to a tee, as you can play a never-ending game of “I Spy” picking out the tiniest details that say something about a character or the environment. Mychael Danna also deserves a great deal of credit for Moneyball’s score, while never intrusive, is particularly memorable.
While Moneyball has a lot going for it, some of its assets can wind up working against it. If you don’t have a head for numbers in the least and expect all sports movies to deliver some action and give you chills when the star player fires off that game winning shot, Moneyball will come in under par. On the other hand, if you’re interested in getting more of a behind-the-scenes look at baseball via deliberate conversations, this one will open up a whole new wing of the sports movie genre.