Moneyball (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
30Sep/110

Moneyball (2011)

The movie is shot beautifully but never makes a big deal of it.

 Moneyball is a great example of a great story well told.  The movie is not flashy and does not rely on fancy camera shots or trick editing.  The director, Bennett Miller, believes that the story and acting will keep people's attention and lets the movie play out.  Because of this, we are treated to one of the best sports movies in the past ten years on top of a truly great performance from Brad Pitt.

Anyone that has a passing knowledge of Major League Baseball knows that the teams are split into the “haves” and “have-nots.”  Teams like the Yankees and Red Sox seem to have a bottomless wallet and can field winning teams by cherry picking the best free agents.  The rest of the teams that don't have $100 million payroll budgets are left to scramble for players to make a winning team from the leftovers.

For years these smaller ballclubs relied on their farm system and scouting to keep them competitive.  After a painful loss in the 2001 division series to the big bad Yankees, the GM of the Oakland A’s, Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), knows that something has to change.  He has a fraction of the budget that the Yankees have, he is losing three of his star players to free agency, and he doesn’t have the money or available players to keep contending in the stacked American League.

It's a movie about stats and numbers but yet it is highly interesting.

A new way of thinking is introduced to him after meeting Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) who uses computer statistics to pick the right players.  Don’t worry about fielding, clubhouse antics or even hitting, just find people that get on base no matter what.

Beane is met with strong resistance from his scouting staff all the way to the manager (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to this new technique, and soon Beane is walking a tightrope between success and horrible failure and he knows that his career and reputation are tied in with the team's record.

The screenplay by Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian does the very difficult task of boiling down a book about numbers and stats into a very human story that both regular moviegoers and sports fans can follow easily.  While there are a few clichéd sports tropes in the film (the misfit team, the bad losses and the miraculous turnaround), Moneyball gets a pass on them since it is based on a true story.

What the story does uniquely is give the audience a fly-on-the-wall look into the daily dealings of a baseball front office. Many films in the past have shown the locker rooms, the field and the personal lives of the players, but typically the front office people have been buffoons, the villains or non-existent. It was interesting to see the movie from the other side of things.

Just get on base.

You wouldn’t expect that scenes involving scouts, team reorganizations and trades would be exciting but this film captures these moments in such a way that it becomes exhilarating.  The best scene in the whole film is of Beane and Brand in an office on trade day.  Names and players are thrown around with wild abandon just to find that one player that might improve the team a bit more.

Here Beane is always in motion, talking to one GM after another, lying and making plans for trades after the trade he is still to make. This scene reminds me of the wonderful opening scene from The Social Network because it is all dialogue but done in such a fast paced way that you have the same feelings afterward that an intense action scene gives; it's a visceral thrill.

The script is so well written that it wouldn’t have mattered if there weren’t a director behind the scenes to make it work, but Moneyball definitely is in good hands with Milller.  He lets each scene breathe with few edits or much of any music.  There are many parts in the movie where Beane is truly a man on his own island, and Miller with cinematographer, Wally Pfister, frame these scenes in such a way that you feel his isolation and everything closing in on him.

Miller also balances the movie for people that follow baseball and those that don’t to make it equally appealing to both sides.  Some of my favorite little touches are when the team is losing badly in the beginning, the film shows the other team celebrating and congratulating each other and the movie always lingers on the few players on these other teams that were once A’s.  This is done subtlety so if a person doesn’t knows the players, it's a little hidden meaning that strengthens the core message of the story between the haves and have-nots.

The clichéd winning streak, but is it clichéd if it actually happened?

Moneyball is one hell of an acting showcase for Brad Pitt. While Pitt is seen as a sex symbol, the man has been turning out interesting performances for over 15 years now dating back to his work in 12 Monkeys, Benjamin Button and Seven.  Here he might have his trickiest job because he is not playing anyone with a handicap or a personal tragedy.  He does not have a prosthetic nose, doesn’t gain a lot of weight and doesn’t channel Billy Beane to a point of forgetting it's Brad Pitt.

Pitt really brings out the weariness that Beane had that year by fighting and arguing with everyone from people in his own organization to media people who thought he was a fool. He also does not make the man a saint, but keeps his portrayal of Beane as a good guy who is a bit cold, distant and frustrated.  You might see him being sweet with his daughter, but there are also scenes where he is being stubborn and egotistical.

Although everyone in the film was strong (including the first Jonah Hill performance I didn’t detest), Pitt is truly in the zone in this film, and I hope people recognize his performance at the end of the year, even if it wasn’t the most “showy” role.

The art of telling a story is not dead in Hollywood and Moneyball exemplifies this.  Thanks to the wonderful script, understated and crisp direction and outstanding acting, it's truly a gem of a movie.  While I would not say it is the best baseball movie ever made, I would already put it on a list of baseball movies everyone should see.

Posted by Ryan

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