Moneyball (2011)

Directed by Bennett Miller
Written by Steve Zaillian & Aaron Sorkin

The best way to start this review is to state the obvious: I am a huuge baseball fan, and even more is that I have failed to ever see a baseball movie I haven’t liked and that is probably due to my simple love of the sport (and avoiding things like Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch, but on second thought I would probably like that too). As such, I have previous background knowledge of the subject matter being dealt with in this film and while I can realize when there is something left out or changed, I can also approach the film as just that, a film, a work of fiction, a dramatized depiction of what actually occurred.

Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) is the general manager of the Oakland Athletics, a small market Major League Baseball team who has just been knocked out of the playoffs after a great season. The sad news for Beane is the fact that his limited budget has just lost him his three best players: Jason Giambi (1B), Johnny Damon (CF) and Jason Isringhausen (CL). So faced with the impossible, Billy sets out to form a team under his $40 Million budget that can compete with the $125 Million budget of a team like the New York Yankees. He takes an unorthodox approach with a young economics graduate from Yale who had been under the employ of the Cleveland Indians, Peter Brand (Jonah Hill). They recruit the players that are “undervalued” by other teams, like Scott Hatteberg (Chris Pratt). Beane goes against the norm, even pushing away his scouts who have years of experience, to create a team that defies the impossible.

What this film is, essentially, is an underdog sports story. The Oakland A’s are underdogs, Billy Beane is an underdog, Peter Brand is an underdog, and Scott Hatteberg is an underdog. But the way the film approaches it is very interesting, it almost comes off as a baseball procedural, a kind of behind the scenes pass into the office of the general manager and the goings on in the front office. But I fear that this type of narrative will come off as far less interesting for non baseball fans than die hards like myself. Sure, it has the dramatics to keep it interesting for the casual movie goers, but I also found it difficult to really connect with any of the underdogs at any deeper level than the fact that they were underdogs.

The film is co-written by Aaron Sorkin, who won the Academy Award for the fantastically written The Social Network from last year, and Steve Zaillian, who has also won an Oscar for adapting Schindler’s List. As such there is a certain level of expectation when it comes to he dialogue, which honestly did not impress me. There were a few scenes in which Brad Pitt was able to shine because of his Brad Pitt-ness and the technical aspects of the baseball world, which were not difficult for me to follow, may become cumbersome for others, and the dialogue is not witty enough to overcome it.

None of the characters seem to be developed further than surface level, but while it seems like I am ripping this film, I think it has more to do with the fact that it was as well received as it was. I had a great time with this film and I think it is one of the more intricately made baseball films, but I also think it is a mediocre film otherwise. There is very nice cinematography and pacing, and some really nice scenes, but it is not engaging enough to be memorable. Philip Seymour Hoffman, who plays Art Howe, the manager of the team, is criminally underused and despite being an underdog story, the film fails to mention the greatness of pitchers Tim Hudson, Barry Zito and Mark Mulder, and an MVP season for shortstop Miguel Tejada. I understand this is insider information in a way, and I can forgive the film their absence, though it does diminish what I would consider an unconvincing establishment of the odds against the team in question.

What Billy Beane did was incredible, and it did change the game, albeit just a little, but he did make an impact. What Bennett Miller, the films director, did was present a fairly uneventful narrative that feels overly truncated. But that also means that there is plenty of meat to bite into, it’s just a shame it couldn’t be more fleshed out, but then again, maybe that is just the fan in me wanting to see more, but I also feel like the story would have benefited from more time with the characters, then maybe I would have felt there were more stakes. But as it stands, Moneyball is a fun baseball film, if you can forgive the inaccuracies and those left out, and an average film which features another good Pitt performance.

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