Hey all, we have a new reviewer named Sam and he is ready to throw the gauntlet down on any film. His first gauntlet throwdown is Brad Pitt’s Moneyball. Have a read and be prepared for more from this man…
If you watched the trailer for Moneyball, then like me, you may very well have dismissed it as another cut and dried sports tale about an unremarkable team who in the beginning are not very good, in the middle are still not very good, but by the end have become (that’s right) very good indeed. Yes, like many films before it that have fallen victim to uninspired marketing, the trailer has trivialised the premise of Moneyball. Fortunately, what we actually get here is a surprising and earnest film that takes care to avoid Hollywood formula and instead pays attention to its characters.
We follow a man named Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) who, in this story, isn’t the coach but the general manager of The Oakland Athletics. In 2001 he leads the team to the World Series only to see them lose and subsequently have three star players bought by other teams and shipped away. Beane is now faced with the daunting task of assembling a new winning team on a shoestring budget. Baseball is a business. Players are bought and sold by rivalling teams like shares on Wall Street, and are often treated with the same expendability. Circumstance introduces Beane to a young Yale graduate (Jonah Hill) with an economics degree and some outlandish ideas about assessing player value. Together, they team up and begin to scout players using an unconventional ‘sabermetric’ approach, which is basically assessing and selecting players based on numbers and statistics, rather than the traditional method of using scout experience and intuition.
Of course the team’s other scouts are dismissive at first, and it doesn’t take long before our Man has rubbed everyone the wrong way. Eventually, the entire baseball community deems this farcical method a dismal failure, and Beane is in danger of being demoted to coaching little league on Saturdays. But oh yes, against all odds, The Athletics go on to win an unprecedented 20 consecutive games and all Beane’s skeptics tug sheepishly at their collars, whilst they watch the very foundation of their business quaking beneath them.
What happens in this movie isn’t what’s important, it’s why it happens. The film explores what we humans are capable of when pushed into a final act of desperation. Even when millions of dollars are involved, the central characters make critical decisions that are visceral rather than pragmatic.
Brad Pitt proves again that even amongst the media frenzy surrounding his personal life, he is still a solid actor capable of hitting a home run (I just couldn’t resist). He plays Beane as a zealous and uncompromising man who on the surface is angry and frustrated, which explains why he throws a lot of furniture and spits tobacco into plastic cups. But underneath his short fuse and abrasiveness, he is not an innately angry person. He says, “I hate losing even more than I love winning”. This comes from a man who has invested so much time into the thing he loves, only to watch his ego smashed out of the ballpark again and again. We all just like to win sometimes, don’t we?
Moneyball is skilfully directed by Bennett Miller, who you may also know for “Capote”. I suspect screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) had a significant role in the shaping of this story. Even in the midst of esoteric baseball jargon we are treated to engaging dialogue that compels us to listen to what the characters are really saying. And I’m sure audiences will find something in these people that will resonate. If you are thinking about skipping this film because you know nothing of or don’t care about baseball, think again, all you need is a basic understanding of people. Plus, watching Brad Pitt slowly morph into Robert Redford is fun too.
By Sam Butchart