Moneyball (2011)

Director:  Bennett Miller
Cast:  Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, & Phillip Seymour Hoffman
Plot:  Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane's successful attempt to put together a baseball club on a budget by employing computer-generated analysis to draft his players.

Genre:  Biography / Drama / Sport
Awards:  Nom. for 6 Oscars - Best Picture, Best Leading Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing.
Runtime:  133min
Rating:  PG13  for some strong language.

Very few will catch this film because it is about baseball.  Maybe hardly anyone at all as most Singaporeans would attest, for it is a sport that is rarely seen, let alone played here. To us, it is a complicated game involving loads of running, swinging, and catching.  For the folks in America, it's one of their most well-loved sports. 

So for them, the sport is the pull itself, with the added visual bonus of seeing Brad Pitt acting cool.  For us, it is Pitt himself who draws us into the alien world of baseball, taking us through the mechanics of the sport with nonchalant ease.

Pitt is more than just a handsome tour guide, though we would have been contented with that. He plays Billy Beane, the general manager of Oakland A, who with his overweight, Yale-educated sidekick, Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), revolutionize the game with their use of statistical analyses to get potentially effective players at the cheapest of prices. 

Based on a true story, Beane created a team of what seemed like lazy misfits, who initially flopped, but later went on an astonishing record-breaking run with twenty consecutive wins.  This is the stuff of legend, and it is tempting for filmmakers to make the next "inspirational sport movie" with Moneyball.

However, for better or worse, Moneyball defies the tradition of such a genre that produced films like Rocky (1976), Chariots of Fire (1981), Invictus (2009), and most recently, Warrior (2011).  

Screenwriters Steven Zaillian (Schindler's List, 1993; Gangs of New York, 2002), and Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network, 2010; The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, 2011) forgo the epic, uplifting climax for a more in-depth look at the micro-level human drama behind-the-scenes.  There is the requisite sequence of glorious triumph against the odds, which is by the way deftly executed, but it is downplayed in the larger scheme of things.

The best parts of the film involve the interactions between Beane and Brand, and their interactions with the people involved with Oakland A, from the scouts to the players. Okay, that's almost the entire film. 

Pitt gives a performance that reminds us of his hilarious role in the Coens' Burn After Reading (2008), but it is nowhere as insane.  In my opinion, Pitt has given a more memorable performance than fellow pal George Clooney of The Descendants (2011). 

The smart dialogue, quick exchange of glances, and awkward silences are perfectly captured.  One outstanding example sees Beane picking three replacement players for his new team to the dismay of his fellow scouts, and using a nervous-looking Brand as a human calculator.

Moneyball also shows director Bennett Miller to be a talent to be reckoned with.  He previously directed the great Philip Seymour Hoffman to an Oscar win in Capote (2005). Speaking of which, Hoffman only has a small role here, which is quite a pity. 

Despite some excellent editing (of film and sound), Moneyball still feels lengthy.  Perhaps there is too much micro-drama, and few truly inspiring moments.  Still, this film is one to catch, and although it has been nominated for six Oscars, I suspect it will leave the glittering ceremony empty-handed.

Verdict:  Not as inspirational as expected, Moneyball forgoes epic, dramatic moments for the micro human drama that takes place behind the scenes, forging a more intimate look at the mechanics of one of America's most-loved sports. 


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