Tuesday, September 27, 2011

‘Moneyball’ – A near perfect pitch…

‘Moneyball’ is based on the true story of Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), a once promising baseball prodigy who found himself a better manager than player. Managing a team with a rather small budget, Beane’s Oakland A’s seem trapped to becoming a club system for the bigger pay rolled teams. After losing several key players in the 2001 season to New York and Boston, Beane decides to take a different approach to building a team and winning games. With the help of Yale educated Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), the two develop a system that focuses on the stats rather than the traditional methods of the long time scouts. It is the theory of Brand that they can get underrated players for less money and still win games by seeking out players that have higher percentages in getting on base and scoring runs. While these may not be big name players, these players are so overlooked they have lost confidence in their own abilities.

This tactic is counter to the old school method of baseball, which focuses on a few star players to build a team around. Beane and Brand endure the ridicule of the sports world as well of that from within their own organization; the ridicule grows as their plan doesn’t quite work out as they initially thought. Written by Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin and Stan Chervin, the dialogue is natural and crisp. The story progresses nicely without becoming a burden in the numbers of baseball and like other baseball movies, touches on the romance of the sport but smartly does not linger on that. What could have turned into a cold, clinical study actually turns into a very real and human story. The writing, as usual for Sorkin (The Social Network), is smart and filled with humor and some very intense moments.  Director Bennett Miller smartly uses actual baseball footage rather than the actors; this creates a very thrilling experience even though we all know the outcome.

The cast is stellar. Brad Pitt puts in the performance of his career; as he ages, he reminds me more and more of Robert Redford, even down to his choices in films. He has had an eclectic career thus far and his maturity is finally starting to show through. Pitt also produced this film which shows a keen eye for material, I would suspect that directing a feature is not far off in his future – and if he does follow the same path as Redford, I am sure they will be fantastic films. In ‘Moneyball’ Pitt as Billy Beane brings a subtle but powerful presence to the young manager struggling with a failing team, a failed marriage and the faith of the players around him. Prone to outbursts of anger, Pitt brings a gentle side to Bean that is so expressive in his eyes that one can almost feel your heart go out to him. While it’s a bit early on in the Oscar race, Pitt certainly deserves at least the mention of a possible nomination. Jonah Hill as Peter Brand was wonderful as well. Most people will remember Hill from his ‘Superbad’ debut; here in ‘Moneyball’ he really comes into his own as an actor and proves without a doubt that he is a talent destined for a fantastic career.

The supporting cast is equally as compelling; the always great Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the A’s coach is solid; in only a few short scenes, Hoffman commands your attention. Equally as stunning is the young Kerris Dorsey as the young daughter of Beane; she serves to humanize him as well as soften him. Dorsey is a scene stealer no doubt and a talent in the making.

While I would not say this is the best baseball movie ever, I would leave that to ‘Field of Dreams’ and ‘The Natural’, it is a solid piece filled with hope and the soul of the game. A 4 star Oscar contender that deserves multiple viewings.

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