Screen Rant's Ben Kendrick reviews Moneyball
Moviegoers can be pretty skeptical of sports films - especially films about a real-life team's championship bid. Often, these movies follow a standard, and predictable, format that fails to capitalize on behind-the-scenes drama without resorting to cringe-inducing melodrama.
However, Moneyball isn't just another Hollywood sports story adaptation - especially considering Academy Award winner Aaron Sorkin rewrote the film's script followed by Steven Zaillian (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). Moneyball's director Bennett Miller is no slouch either - responsible for helming the critically acclaimed, true-life-story to film, Capote. Interest in Moneyball, among non-sports types, was furthered by the casting of Brad Pitt (who continues to rack up one impressive dramatic role after another) and interestingly, Jonah Hill - who aside from a few turns in low-profile indie films, has mostly played to type since Superbad put him on the map. Does Moneyball, which enjoys a host of household names, successfully convey the excitement of the no-name Oakland Athletics' 2002 team?
Fortunately, the answer is yes - for the most part. While Moneyball isn't the grand slam home run that some movie (and sports) buffs might have been hoping for, the film is at least a quick mid-field grounder that gets the job done with plenty of excitement. The momentum of the film is no doubt buoyed by the source material, "Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game" by Michael Lewis - which featured a lengthy breakdown of the Oakland A's unorthodox, and roller-coaster ride, 2002 season. While the film doesn't get too bogged down in the mathematics, the true story does offer plenty of truly intriguing behind-the-scenes character moments as well as on-the-field action.
Moneyball centers around Oakland A's general manager, Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), a former ball player turned ball club honcho that, following a disappointing title run in 2001, loses several of his key players to teams that can shower money on them. In order to have a chance at the playoffs, Beane must rebuild his team using 1/3 of the financial resources that the championship Yankees were working with at the time. When Beane's scouts offer up the same tired ideas, the GM turns to bean counter Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), who name is Paul DePodesta in real life, to help him assemble an "island of misfit toys" - players that other teams would reject (due to age, attitude, or play style) but consistently get on base. As Beane and Brand attempt to implement their new approach, tensions rise between scouts, players, and coaches, leading the pair to engage in a drastic series of events - in an attempt to forever change the game.
As mentioned, unlike the 2002 A's team, Moneyball has a plethora of big-names (in this case actors and filmmakers) backing the project - and, for the most, it shows on screen. The cinematography is sharp, taking full advantage of the tight behind-the-scene hallways of (at the time) Network Associates Coliseum - as well as the expansive sprawl of the ball field. Unlike other true-life sport movies, the film isn't overly stylized (or too nostalgic) but still manages to offer some exciting and epic moments by juxtaposing the larger-than-life personalities with the realities of the story's context - meaning, while Billy Beane may have changed baseball to a degree, he doesn't sit in a corner office doling out orders. Moneyball is, at least in its attempts, an honest film and the audience has unobstructed access to Beane's journey, warts and all.
While Brad Pitt is rarely considered just a pretty face anymore, after taking on a decade's worth of diverse and challenging roles, there's no doubt he once again delivers as Beane - bringing a down-to-earth look at the evolution of not just the Moneyball strategy but Beane's approach as general manager. Moneyball relies heavily on Pitt's ability to bring subtle humor to the real-life proceedings - and simultaneously, delivering believable emotional complexity in some especially tough scenes. The supporting bench definitely helps Pitt (and the overarching proceedings) with Philip Seymour Hoffman (as field Manager, Art Howe) and Brent Jennings (playing A's coach, Ron Washington) offering some especially entertaining counter-points to Beane's portrayal.
Plenty of suspicious baseball fans, as well as raunchy-comedy faithful, have their eye on Jonah Hill's performance as Peter Brand - as a reason to either see or pan Moneyball. It's true that Brand is the comedy actor's most high-profile dramatic role to date but there's little to say about it either way. Hill is competent in the role and certainly doesn't detract from the proceedings - but isn't much of a standout either. Portrayed by Hill, Brand is mostly a subdued version of many of his prior characters - awkward, unassuming, and unsure of himself but likable nonetheless. The interplay between Beane and Brand accounts for some of the more "humorous" moments in the film, but each and every one of these scenes relies on the subtlety of the performances - a mark that can, once in awhile, escape Hill.
The overarching story captured in the film is definitely intriguing and moment to moment offers plenty of entertainment value - even for non-baseball fans. That said, with the exception of Beane, the story almost entirely pushes side characters out of the picture in the closing act - and the narrative becomes much more about Beane and how he "changed baseball" than about his (on and off the field) team. Peter Brand and Art Howe get especially short-shrift - acting more as moons circling planet Beane than actual people with lives, or meaning, outside of their relationship to the Moneyball philosophy. It's not that these guys needed a lot of closure but it's unfortunate that the film isn't nearly as good at handling people as it is delivering exposition about the sabermetric approach to baseball scouting.
Despite some uneven storytelling priorities, Moneyball is definitely an enjoyable film - with some truly great performances, exciting moments, and creative cinematography. Too bad it only reinforces Hollywood's reliance on big name talent to sell movies (I'm still waiting for Hollywood's version of Peter Brand, so that Michael Lewis can write Moneyfilm).
If you’re still on the fence about Moneyball, check out the trailer below:
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Moneyball is now in theaters.