Moneyball [2011]

Bennet Miller, the man who brought us the excellent Capote in 2005, hits a triple with Moneyball, a film about the 2002 Oakland Athletics, their historic twenty game winning streak in that year, and the men behind the team’s success. The title is pretty self explanatory–in 2002 the Oakland A’s had the lowest salary budget in the MLB. Moneyball is the story of how they beat teams like the Yankees despite exponential gaps in assets. Brad Pitt and a still-fat Jonah Hill (I think I liked him better before he got all lithe and debonair) star in this one, and their chemistry on screen is a blast to watch. Pitt plays Billy Beane, a former first-round draft pick who failed to perform in the MLB and continues as the A’s GM to this day, while Jonah Hill portrays the fictional Peter Brand, a recent Yale graduate with a degree in economics, some powerful number crunching skills and a passion for sabermetrics–the art of examining (and hopefully, winning) baseball through statistics. Neither role is a far cry from what these gents are used to doing on screen, but their chemistry is excellent and they’re a blast to watch together. Hoffman, who took the Academy Award for Best Actor in his portrayal of Truman Capote in Miller’s only other feature film, plays Art Howe, the A’s stoic coach who buts heads with Pitt’s character continually throughout the first half of the film until the Athletics start winning. PSH, a purported method actor, is always excellent because he really becomes the character he portrays without bringing personal baggage or aspirations into his work. He’s not afraid to underact, even if it makes him and his character come off as boring. It’s the same in this film, and Spike Lee’s 25th Hour comes to mind as well, a film in which he plays the support role of an introverted school teacher who’s mopey and drab, and not much fun to watch. Hoffman would rather play the character the way it was written than entertain the viewer, which I feel shows his maturity and seriousness toward his craft.

At 133 minutes, Moneyball’s a long flick, but it didn’t feel that way. Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay is tight and full of delicious tech-y jargon, which is enjoyable, even for those who aren’t big fans of baseball (like yours truly). Pitt’s Billy Beane is a deliciously flawed character, and he makes for a great anti-hero. Though we’re sometimes appalled by his cutthroat tactics, we’re excited to cheer him and his team on, and we’re elated when they start winning. Though MB gets bogged down a bit by some filial stuff and some tacked-on-feeling flashback scenes, we’re reminded that this is a Hollywood flick, and the speed and taste with which even the stickier scenes are done keep everything palatable. There are also some examples of amazing cinematography–a couple long, sweeping locker room one-takes come to mind. The ending is timed just right, and the viewer’s left satisfied. Moneyball is a good film and an excellent sports flick. Just don’t watch it with the girlfriend unless she likes sports–things can get pretty dry in the land of sabermetrics.

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