Friday, February 17, 2012
Let's Talk About Baseball...With Brad Pitt.
Director: Bennett Miller
Written by: Steven Zallian and Aaron Sorkin
Starring: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright, Chris Pratt, Stephen Bishop, Brent Jennings, Kerris Dorsey.
Running time: 133 min.
"It's hard not to get romantic about baseball." - those words are some which are stowed away in a planet far away from me. I don't know the first thing about baseball, apart from the fact that when a ball comes at you, you should try and hit it. There's something about running around all of these bases, too. But that's as far as my knowledge - or interest - goes. Like Senna, Moneyball had to do the monumental task of winning me over, despite the sporty trimmings and the lack of familiarity. Unlike Senna, Moneyball couldn't hit the ball right out of the park for me (see, I learnt something), but it hit it far enough. Even if I couldn't quite get romantic about baseball, I had quite a good time watching people talk romantically about a sport from another planet that I don't inhabit.
Many people have called Moneyball out for being an unconventional sports movie. I couldn't think of anything more true. Moneyball may be a story of the underdog doing something extraordinary, but it rarely ever confronts that. There aren't many moments of people hugging and leaping about in joy over their triumphs. Instead, there is a lot of talking out how the underdogs are going to succeed - which may prove frustrating for some, but let's not forget that all of this talking comes straight from the Oscar-winning brains of Steven Zallian and Aaron Sorkin. You could expect a The Social Network-esque dialogue driven drama, and you could also expect something of a character piece.
Our hero is Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) who is at his wit's end being the general manager of the Oakland A's. They barely ever win, and they don't have the huge budget that allows other teams to snatch their players and leave them in the dust. Billy and his team need something of a miracle to drag them out of the mud and start making the best of what little they have. Enter Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a young Yale graduate who is working for the Cleveland Indians. He believes that the players that the Oakland A's need aren't the ones aren't the ones who want truckloads of money and their names up in lights. Thanks to some computer-generated statistical analysis, Peter has a good idea of who could actually work for their team minus the heavy pricetag. Problem is, these players are considered to be an "island of misfit toys", and couldn't possibly form a winning team in the eyes of everyone else.
While the underdog becoming top dog story is one that we all know by heart, Moneyball almost never lets that part come to the spotlight. If anything, this is one of those 'behind-the-scenes' dramas, where people look disappointingly at the downtrodden who are trying to come up again, whisper about their disapproval behind their backs and wonder what the hell they are trying to do. At the centre of all of that disapproval and disappointment is Billy Beane, who is the movie's primary concern. Beane is an interesting character, who is oddly charismatic and slightly radical, distant yet filled with his fair share of optimism. As the movie goes on it becomes clear that it isn't concerned with the sport being played or the players who are playing it - Billy Beane is the one we see the triumphs and hardships through. Brad Pitt becomes a perfect representative of that. His performance truly is something special, even if I didn't find it to be his best. He encapsulates every intriguing weave in Beane, producing a textured, yet subtle performance. I thought this might be Pitt's year to take home the Oscar, but that's not the case, which is a sad thing indeed.
Despite the fact that Beane is an interesting character, he's also quite an emotionally distant one, which puts a damper on the occasion. The film on a whole is very hard to feel emotionally attached to, especially as it doesn't tend to show things from the player's side all that often. I found myself warming to the little moments, like when Beane's daughter is singing to him, or the flashbacks to Beane's failed baseball playing days, or when Scott overcomes his fear, a lot more than anything else. That's not to say that the film was all exposition and nothing else - there just wasn't a lot of heart put in when the film needed it most. It is a lot like The Social Network, or it is trying hard to be like The Social Network, where a radical idea is put through it's paces by a slightly cocky and ambitious lead character. It has all of the whipper-snapper conversations bounding from person to person. But what Moneyball is missing is that is doesn't really have much to say. It may be a true story and it may speak wonders about how we really can do anything if we put our minds to it, but that's it. If I were a baseball fan, maybe I'd come away with more of a sense of purpose behind the film. I couldn't help but feel a little disappointed with Zallian and Sorkin's efforts here, as they nailed the dialogue as best as they could and made the story a little interesting to someone has unknowledgeable as I. But between the odd pacing and some of the strange reliance on flashbacks that never seemed to quite fit with what they were following, Moneyball missed it's target. Only just.
Where everything else fails, though, Moneyball makes up with by being an extremely well-made film. The editing and camera work (by the brilliant Wally Pfister, who often works with Christopher Nolan) is beautiful, especially during the game scenes. It is also beautifully cast, particularly with Jonah Hill playing against type and going all the way to an Oscar nomination. He didn't blow me away, but it was nice to not see him play a loud and obnoxious version of himself.
Now, I might not be getting romantic over baseball just yet, nor do I feel compelled to travel to that faraway planet any time soon. That doesn't stop me from taking quite a shine to little old Moneyball, which may not have won me over, but probably will get there on a second watch.
What I got: