Moneyball (2011)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), the Oakland A’s general manager, was about to lose three of its most high-profile players to other teams. Instead of wallowing in pessimism, Beane decided that it was a great opportunity to reinvent the team and win games. Given that the Oakland A’s did not have the budget to pay players millions of dollars, Beane focused on statistics to form his new team. With the help of Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a Yale graduate who majored in Economics, the duo challenged the system and figureheads set on thinking a certain way about baseball. Given that baseball is a sport that I never learned to love or be remotely interested in, I expected to be very confused when the characters in the film used baseball jargon to explain why certain decisions were practical or downright negligent. Surprisingly, I had no trouble catching on because the screenplay by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin was first and foremost a story of a man who was both passionate and tired of the sport. That contradiction in Beane was highlighted by Pitt so convincingly and so lovingly, there were times when I wanted to scream for the GM because no one seemed to understand what he was trying to achieve. With the exception of Brand, everyone was convinced that he was bitter about losing and had decided to sabotage the team. Since the material allowed us to construct an attachment to Beane, we are ineluctably reminded by our own experiences when we tried to make a difference or accomplish something unexpected, but everyone just seemed intent on getting in the way. With every losing battle against his peers (Philip Seymour Hoffman), we had a chance to see a glimpse of Beane’s younger years as a promising baseball sensation. One important conversation was when he had to choose between playing in Major Leagues versus accepting to go to school in Stanford. Obviously, he chose the former given the money involved. But it didn’t work out; he wasn’t the shining star that everyone predicted him to be. Slowly, the audience was given an increasingly complex and interesting portrait of the protagonist and why he was so driven to choose players that were considered out of their primes. Furthermore, the dialogue was easy on the ears because there was a consistent flow in the delivery of the lines. When the flow was interrupted by a silence or a character stopping mid-sentence in order to look at another character a certain way, dramatic beats were appropriately used to maintain dramatic momentum. However, there were about two or three scenes that felt out of place, notably Beane’s interactions with his daughter (Kerris Dorsey). While they shared a sweet chemistry, one was more than enough. Scenes like Beane serving ice cream to his daughter felt like an obvious montage of “Daddy Still Cares Even If He’s Busy at Work.” We knew he loved his daughter from their first scene together. We could see it in the way Beane looked at her while she played guitar in public. Directed by Bennett Miller, “Moneyball,” based on the nonfiction novel by Michael Lewis, was a well-made underdog story about the business side of baseball, yet that isn’t to suggest that it was without nifty surprises clandestine enough to appeal to our soft spots.

4 replies »

  1. Franz,

    somewhat like you (except you actually live in the baseball-interested US), I came to Moneyball with neither any particular knowledge of, or interest in, baseball as such. Like you, I came away impressed with the film, and I liked large aspects both of Pitt’s performance and the the script. I was impressed by how the Sorkin parts of the script felt so un-Sorkian, in the sense that they had the good sense to tone down his almost show-offy (if always entertaining and very often poignant) tendency, in both ‘The West Wing’ and ‘The Social Network’, to create zingers and snappy back-and-forth just for the fun ot it, and with less regard for whether it was actually needed in the scene.

    That said, I was a long way off from _loving_ Moneyball. I found very little to hang on to emotionally, although I appreciated that it consciously stayed clear of most of the rousing sports-film cliches. In a weak field, it was perhaps my third favorite for a Best Picture Oscar (far behind The Tree of Life and Hugo), but if I could I would have recognized Pitt for Supporting Actor for Tree of Life instead, and giving his Best Actor nod to Michael Shannon for Take Shelter (or perhaps kept Pitt and scrapped Demian Bichir for A Better Life, but whatever.)

    • You know what I found really weird? I think I’ve grown so accustomed to sport dramas that, half-way through, I began to crave watching an extended baseball scene–yes!–with all the cliches stapled to the sub-genre. This movie only had one. And it was so compelling. For me to be excited about baseball (my least favorite sport next to golf) says a lot.

      Like you, I consider Brad Pitt stronger in “The Tree of Life” as well. He barely had any dialogue but his facial expressions, body language, and dominating presence told an entire story. I don’t see why he couldn’t have been nominated for both. Different performances, both great. Merits a reward, I reckon.

      • Franz,

        1) I hate golf, too.

        2) Brad’s nearing a statuette, I think. I like him when he’s trying for something more than just dazzle.

        (see: Inglourious Basterds, in which I think he brought absolutely nothing to the table. But I was deeply disappointed with that movie, which puts me in a minority from the get-go. Also: Snatch. Over the years, as I have cooled somewhat on Fight Club – see, you’re slowly winning me over! – I’m starting to feel there’s too much dazzle and too little else in his Tyler Durden performance as well.).

        Moneyball and Tree of Life are my two fave performances of his, I think, with Fight Club in third place. Granted, it’s been an eternity since I saw Se7en. And wasn’t he kind good in 12 Monkeys? And Thelma & Louise put his youthful dazzle factor to good use.

    • I’m with the majority in loving “Inglourious Basterds,” but I do have to agree with you somewhat. I don’t think he brought nothing to table but I felt as though he was slumming it in the role. From what I remember, he was more jokey than menacing. I think his character would’ve been stronger if he had reached a balance of both qualities.

      I recently saw “Se7en” and do have to say that it’s one of my favorite performances by him. Like in “Moneyball,” he played down the angst for the majority of the time. By playing inwards and suddenly erupting when something important happens is, I think, his forte. I don’t remember “12 Monkeys” at all. It’s one of those movies I’m planning to revisit soon.

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