Tuesday, 22 November 2011

'Moneyball' Review

'Moneyball' (dir: Bennett Miller, 2011) Cert: 12A

It is fair to think that Brad Pitt may finally take home his long-awaited Oscar come February after starring in two critically acclaimed features this year. After his incredible work in Terrence Malick's sublime 'The Tree of Life', he is back and striding in 'Moneyball'; a biographical screen adaptation of the Michael Lewis text. Oscar winner Aaron Sorkin ('The Social Network') has co-written the screenplay along with Steven Zaillian, plus the ingenious Wally Pfister serves as Director of Photography - so, awards all round?

 Billy Beane (Pitt) is the Oakland A's General Manager and is unfairly handicapped with the lowest salary in the MLB. He dreams of reaching the World Series but in order to achieve that, he will need a competitive and determined team. With such a lack of cash, this seems like an impossible task until Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) enters the frame. The pair soon begin drafting players by using tactical data, statistics and mathematics as a method of making runs, supporting budgets and ultimately, winning games.

 If one called 'Moneyball' a traditional sports film they would be most certainly lying - much like 'The Social Network', Miller's film sheds light on the unrecognisable side of something we all know, understand and experience. Rather than learning about the dirty side of Facebook, this film explains the financial difficulties in the sport and how they are overcome. The picture's focus is not essentially the game of baseball but rather the ability to create, evaluate and submit a team roster by pulling many strings and managing with what you have. In fact, 'Moneyball' is more like an exciting and riveting 2 hour maths lesson rather than a sporting depiction.

 Typical of Sorkin is the magnetic dialogue which is always delivered with that signature wit and irony, and whilst his Oscar-winning entry has more memorable one-liners, his co-work here with Zaillian is accomplished, polished and pristine. The film's style and setting is not one of a usual sports drama either - the majority of the running time is consumed by speeches and characterisation, plus the locations are low-key and timid such as offices, locker rooms and gymnasiums. Yet despite it's limited spacing, Miller's direction is strong and established, and Pfister captures spirit and moments of still yet sheer electricity with his brilliantly skilled hands.

 Knowing that the UK is not much of a baseball nation, you would think 'Moneyball' would be a fairly tough sell, but it's character development and drama is what keeps it fresh, gripping and alive, and what will cause audiences to take their seats. Pitt's Billy Beane is multi-layered and dynamic - the audience learn a lot about him, his childhood and his past experiences with the game he loves. We see he was a player with incredible potential but sadly did not fit the bill and that his position as GM is a way for him to be mended by the game that broke his spirits and his heart. 

Still from 'Moneyball' (dir: Bennett Miller, 2011)
 Pitt gives a frank, honest and supremely believable performance; there is nothing hidden or under-wraps, he is merely a genuine man having a rough time. Seeing that Billy is a real GM who currently still works with the Oakland A's, it seems only right that Pitt's performance paints an accurate and intimate portrait. He is sensational here and one can see both his roles this year getting many award nominations.

 Philip Seymour Hoffman pops up now and again in a fairly minor, understated role as Art Howe - the team manager at the A's, but this does not mean his performance is unimportant or inadequate, on the contrary. Despite limited screen-time, Hoffman reels in the viewer and makes for a interesting 'antagonist' towards Beane and Brand's newly-discovered drafting style.

 The film's biggest surprise however is Hill's portrayal as Peter - one has always been a huge fan of Hill's comedies but he makes it very clear here that his is not just a funny overweight guy; he is actually a very capable actor.  Brand is the brains behind the 'Moneyball' theory and Hill manages to balance his responsibilities and beliefs with beautiful subtly whilst still showing Brand's slight naivety when it comes to convincing the 'old dogs' of baseball. It wouldn't surprise me if Hill is nominated for a Supporting Actor award and he will be worthy of that privilege. 

 Fans of sports movies will find plenty to enjoy in 'Moneyball'  but realistically, this is a character drama that all can relate to about overcoming the odds and uncertainties to achieve a goal and dream - this is a classic underdog tale disguised by a graduation gown and cap. It's one of the year's strongest and most-rounded features that offers it's viewers a great variety at each individual base and best of all, it's a sheer delight to stand with Billy and wear hypothetical foam fingers which are being flashed in the direction of those who doubted or lost faith in him. 

Smartly executed, engagingly scripted and impeccably performed - 'Moneyball' smashes a home run.

By Chris Haydon

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