Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Moneyball

The third film in my review series of movies nominated for Best Picture, Moneyball is really the first one I think was worth of the nomination.  Oh I know that there are some out there saying, 'Oh sure, he likes the SPORTS movie!' But this is the first movie I thought had it all as a film.  It was well-cast, had a great story and was well-acted. I am sure several of the films I have left to review will score in all these areas, but Moneyball is the first so far.

Adapted from Michael Lewis's 2003 book, the movie stars Brad Pitt as Billy Beane, the General Manager of the Oakland A's, whose use of new statistical analysis tools transformed baseball in the first years of this century. Doesn't sound like much of a movie in that description, which is probably why it took three writers, three directors and 7 years to get the production off the ground.

Ultimately, Aaron Sorkin, of 'The West Wing' and 'A Few Good Men' fame, penned the final draft of the screenplay and turned this into a story of the little guy fighting against the mega-franchises of Major League Baseball.  Beane is liberated from being a numbers-obsessed geek by Jonah Hill's quiet, excellent portrayal of Beane's protege, Peter Brand.  Sorkin adds a depth to Beane that I have never felt in his interviews or in the book, showing him to be a caring father, doting mentor and person of great conviction.

The father angle is ultimately important because it gives the film some chance at a Hollywood ending.  Based (at times loosely) on the 2002 A's season, there is no real life parade at the end of the story.  The A's, while successful, did not achieve baseball's Holy Grail.  In fact, Beane is still waiting for his World Series trophy.  For Beane to have a human, rather than professional, reason to remain in Oakland at the end of the film makes all the difference.

I'm no Brad Pitt fan, but I have to admit he is perfect as Beane, the former MLB washout turned sabermetric GM.  He's got the loose-limbed, easy manner of a ball player and the casual intensity of a sports executive nailed in the 133 minute film.  The rest of the cast is solid as well.  Phillip Seymour Hoffman is excellent as usual as Beane's foil, crusty manager Art Howe.  Jonah Hill's portrayal of a composite character is perfect and 'Parks and Recreation's' Chris Pratt is credible playing a big-leaguer, something numerous others have failed at.

Moneyball is not a perfect movie.  There have been more than a few criticisms of the factual leaps the film takes.  I will chalk that up to poetic license.  The movie also lacks visual appeal at times.  There are a lot of concrete hallways and meeting rooms.  The baseball scenes are pretty pedestrian stuff.  I know it's a true story guys, but it's not a documentary.  We don't need to see the actual stretch of barren hallway where the deal got done.  You could film it at a beach side restaurant!

There are no women to speak of in the movie unless you count Beane's daughter Casey (Kerris Dorsey) or the momentary appearance of Robin Wright as Beane's ex-wife. Guys, if you're looking for eyecandy, move along. It's also a touch too long. There is a lot of time spent building up the tension between Pitt and Hill and the baseball establishment. The failure of Beane's playing career is inserted a few times too often with no real apparent need. We get what you're doing guys, you don't need to beat us over the head with it.

Ultimately this film works, though, becasue we never really think of Brad Pitt as anyone but Billy Beane.  We forget that he's Angelina Jolie's husband and that he was Benjamin Button or the Devil.  He's living inside Beane's skin, spitting in his dip cup, mouthing all that great Sorkin dialog.  The other actors help him along, but this is the Brad Pitt show.

My brother was a huge fan of the book years back and asked me recently what I thought of the movie.  I thought for a moment and said, 'One of the best films I have seen in a while.'  You'll love 'Moneyball' even if you hate sports movies.


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