Saturday, September 24, 2011

Moneyball (2011) (Review)

     Moneyball (2011) does two things I would have thought impossible.  First, it makes the Oakland Athletics – the franchise that gave us the Bash Brothers (and a team that routinely abused the Red Sox in the late 1980s) and Jason Giambi – appear to be a likeable, earnest franchise that one would not feel dirty when cheering for.  Second, and much more impressively, it provides an opportunity for Brad Pitt to act – to take on a role with layers that demands a level of maturity in the portrayal – and not diminish the work of the other actors around him.
     Seriously, I find myself writing praise for Pitt.  Sure, I think that there are others who could have done a better job.  Occasionally Pitt affects a bit of a Western accent, and his mannerisms for compulsion – excepting the workout scenes – feel a little forced.  But on the whole, he gives a good performance and even elevates some of the work of those around him.
     Working opposite Pitt's Billy Beane is Jonah Hill as Peter Brand.  Hill is restrained in his performance (thank God!) and provides a decent counterpoint to Pitt's often fiery – even if it is only behind closed doors – Beane.  Hill makes Brand feel like a real person, learning the ropes about the human side of baseball and the rewards of being out in front of the curve in regards to player evaluation.  Philip Seymour Hoffman becomes manager Art Howe, though his role doesn't allow him to do much other than resist Beane and Brand's efforts to remake the team.
     There isn't anything tricky going on with the story or dialogue.  Beane has to find a way to win with a limited payroll and a support staff that believes in business as usual.  He has struggles with the owner and manager.  He doesn't get to spend a lot of time with his daughter, but when he does he doesn't want his work problems spilling over on her (my guess is that this was shown to humanize Beane, and while it was done with a deft touch I don't think it was necessary).  
     A good chunk of time in the film is dedicated to the A's winning streak of twenty games in 2002.  This part of the movie feels like it was added in later, but it still works.  Indeed, the mix of real-life footage and material shot just for the film make Moneyball the best looking (maybe most authentic) film about baseball that I have seen.  There is also no shortage of sound bites from so-called experts – Joe Morgan, I'm talking about you – who give praise to anyone but Beane and place all blame at his feet, which absolutely illuminates how little of what we think we know is based on anything other than what we are told.
     I think this is a good movie.  I saw that Entertainment Weekly gave it an A-, which sounds about right.  There are some weaknesses, but the overall product is so strong that it doesn't weigh the finished project down.  It may not have the ending that a typical Hollywood movie would devise for the story, but I think that makes it all the more worthwhile.

1 comment:

  1. I don't really like brad pitt, but a- seems good enough to give it a try.