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Review - Moneyball

23 Nov 2011
Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill take on the establishement in Moneyball
Read our interview with star Jonah Hill. 

As the general manager of Oakland Athletic baseball team, Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) has to compete against rivals with five times his budget while superstar players leave the second they smell a bigger paycheck. When Beane chances on young Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) and his new , stats based viewpoint on the game, he takes a chance on a new system that could change baseball forever.

Based on real events which occurred during the 2001-2002 season and chronicled by journalist Michael Lewis in his 2003 book, Moneyball is a story only obliquely about baseball. It focuses instead on an attempt to move away from the established traditions of player recruitment and a quest not for superstar players but an ideal assortment of ingredients to purchase the only thing that matters in sports – wins.

It’s a film that could easily have become a cold experience, one which dehumanises the sport, reducing it down to a perfect statistical puzzle but while Pitt’s Beane tries hard to keep his distance from the team that is assembled, Frankenstein like, before him – what really emerges is a group of people who have been unduly ignored by other clubs. This ‘island of misfit toys’ is given a chance to prove themselves and the results lead to a paradigm shift in the way the game is played.

Moneyball isn’t a conventional sports movie – it’s light on inspiration speeches and even the on the field action is limited and often focussed on Oakland’s failures. The filmmakers wisely keep the maths in the background, focussing instead on the human drama. Hill’s Brand reflects the theme of the movie most keenly, as a previously undervalued employee and one more character who finds new life in a shakeup of the system.

The film is intercut with moments from Beane’s youth, when he was given the chance at a full athletic scholarship. It’s a neat insight into the sometimes unpleasant character he has become – a man who finds himself tied to a sport he was never given a chance to excel at. These interludes, together with the undulating drama of the sporting season and the relationship between the leads, gives Moneyball plenty to fill its two hour plus running time.

Despite the appearance of names like Philip Seymour Hoffman and Robin Wright in the credits, there’s little room on screen for anyone but Pitt and Hill and they share a number of enjoyable scenes together – even if the younger actors awe of the veteran star is palpable. Pitt is far from likeable here, filled with an unselfconscious arrogance and plenty of spitting, but his quirks and realistic frustration help to sell the reality of the situation. Hill is decent – his dramatic skills could still use some work and some of his ad-libbing is ropey – but he suits the role well.

The script from Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) and Steve Zaillian (American Gangster) is sharp and lightly funny, while managing to be less obviously erudite than Sorkin’s recent work, and thus much more believable. Director Bennet Miller last worked on Capote and things are much lighter here but he pulls good performances from his cast and sets up the baseball stuff with an eye to keeping non fanatics in the loop.

Moneyball is a quality production from start to finish, featuring strong performances from the leads, solid support and a wry, breezy script. But lacking a regular sports movie structure makes it just a little duller than you might expect and the drama lacks the peaks and troughs that would make it truly memorable.