Monday, 30 January 2012

Moneyball

Academy Award Nominations: 6
  • Best Picture
  • Best Actor (Brad Pitt)
  • Best Supporting Actor (Jonah Hill)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay (Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian; Story by Stan Chervin)
  • Best Film Editing (Christopher Tellefsen)
  • Best Sound Mixing (Deb Adair, Ron Bochar, Dave Giammarco and Ed Novick)

The Oakland Athletics baseball team have done well in their 2001 season. However, success next season looks unlikely as budget restrictions means the team is about to lose their three star players to teams like the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, teams with multitudes of wealth. The team’s general manager, Billy Beane, sets about rebuilding his team, not by replacing the players themselves, but by replacing their stats, all on a limited budget. His scouting network comes up with suggestions, none of which Beane is happy with. However, on a recruiting trip to Cleveland, he meets a Yale economics graduate named Peter Brand, whose ‘sabermetrics’ approach to finding players could be just the solution Beane and the A’s need to have a competitive season...

Moneyball is the film of the book which is ‘based on the true story’ of the Oakland A’s 2002 season and how Billy Beane and Peter Brand used statistics to find cheap, misfit players and create a baseball team capable of competing with high budget, all-star teams. The unbelievable nature of the true story makes is perfect Hollywood fodder, but it faced a big problem. It’s a baseball film which isn’t about baseball, and it isn’t Field of Dreams. To put it simply, there’s an awful lot of talking and typing on computers in Moneyball. Luckily, the man tasked to adapting the book of the real life story onto the big screen has experience in writing films and television shows which involve lots of talking and typing on computers. As a matter of fact, he won an Oscar just last year for his last effort: The ‘un-filmable’, ‘un-cinematic’, ‘boring’ story of the creation of Facebook which turned into one of 2010’s best films. Aaron Sorkin, we thank you.

Sorkin has a knack of turning wordy, un-filmable stories into exciting motion pictures which still contain all that long stretches of dialogue and exposition, and Moneyball is no different. Sorkin’s trademark fast paced dialogue is all over this film, and really amps up the story. Sorkin seems to have a real skill in finding the drama and creating the tension in what is otherwise an unlikely scenario. However, saying that, the film also has many other merits which make this ‘business of baseball’ story more immediately watchable. The direction by Bennett Miller is pretty spot-on, the editing switches between fast and snappy and slow and deliberate, creating the right tone and pace for each scene, and the film itself is shot beautifully by Wally Pfister, the man who’s currently making Christopher Nolan’s Batman films look incredible and one of my favourite cinematographers at the moment. All these are pluses for the film, but with such a heavy and intricate script, the performances from the lead actors had to be spot-on, and thankfully, they are.

Brad Pitt is pretty much acting for fun nowadays, any performance he puts in seems to be effortless and the same applies here, acting cool as always and bringing the character to life with real vigour and believability. He captures the anxiety, quiet desperation and contained excitement of Billy Beane and translates it onto the big screen. However, Pitt is somewhat outshone in this by, and I’m even surprised I’m writing this, Jonah Hill. I’m not a big Jonah Hill fan, he’s been in a couple of funny films but he plays the same character every time, which was why I was amaze he got a look in for best supporting actor. Here though, he goes outside his range and it pays off big time. That’s not to say it’s a phenomenal performance, but he certainly puts in a better showing here than he has for his last few big screen outings. Playing the straight guy actually suits him, and when he decides to stop doing comedies, there may be life in his career yet. However, I wasn’t a big fan of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who plays the team’s manager in this. Whenever he appears on screen, the dialogue seems clunky and the delivery is no better. Also, the players Beane and Brand sign seem like sports movie clich├ęs, with one being the cocky veteran, one being the unorthodox guy with real talent, one being the guy plucked from obscurity to take a leading role. There’s no imagination in the creation of these characters, and whether or not this was a deliberate choice in order to place the emphasis firmly on Beane and Brand I don’t know, but nonetheless I found these characters mildly cringeworthy.

Moneyball seems to be a film of two halves: The first half of the film is filled with a lot of set-up, explaining the situation of the characters, then the introduction of Brand and his 'sabermetrics' along with an awful lot of explanation as to how his economical approach to baseball players actually works. Then, the second half of the film begins, and things really start going from there. With all the plot devices and characters in place, all that's allowed to happen is for events to unfold and unfold they do, creating a seriously gripping piece of cinema. There's drama from watching how the team fares under this new way of thinking, there's glimpses of action as we see the plan put into action. There's even comedy from Beane and Brand as Brand, an economics graduate from Yale with no prior knowledge of the running of a baseball team, is suddenly promoted to assistant GM under Beane and starts asserting his authority, though mainly through Beane's insistence he does what's "part of his job". It's the great mix of all these genres in one film that make Sorkin films so instantly recognisable and watchable, it's just a shame it takes an hour to really get going.

Aside from this, Moneyball is a highly watchable film, definitely in the same vein as The Social Network, with some good performances on show and some fantastic dialogue to solidify said performances. The story drags somewhat for the first hour, but the second hour is the one that’ll reward you for sticking with it. Personally, given what we’re shown in Moneyball, I’d love to see Wally Pfister creating the images of Aaron Sorkin’s words far more often. This isn’t really an emotive film, it’s by far more clinical and factual, so if you’re looking for something that’s going to grab you by the heart, you’re in the wrong place. However, if you’re looking for something to make you think and deliver a great story for a couple of hours, look no further. Even if you don’t know your short stops from your Red Sox, it’s definitely worth watching.

Rating: ****

Moneyball was released on 25th November 2011 and is no longer being shown in cinemas.