Sports movies are treated like any other genre fare. It’s as though by definition they are automatically of a lower quality. Not art. Not worthy. You know, they often get the suffix ‘just a’ thrown in from of them. It’s just a sport movie. And you know what, most of the time they’d be right. There must be a thousand sports flicks out there, the question is, how many transcend the genre?
There’s been a recent rash of the Rocky clones being assembled (actually assembled if you consider the upcoming Real Steel), with last years critical/commercial/awards success The Fighter and this years sentimental heavyweight MMA movie Warrior but Bennet Miller’s film is none of these. Moneyball is not a sports movie, or more accurately, not a baseball movie. Well, that’s not completely fair. Moneyball is a baseball movie the same way The Social Network is a Facebook movie. It’s a backdrop, albeit an interesting one, one which the human drama unfolds. Both have the benefit of being the always beloved ‘true story’ so we don’t have to worry about narrative stretches or logical believability, we’re just here to see how a social networking site was built while a friendship falls to ruin… Sorry, wrong film.
The comparisons to The Social Network have to be made. It’s inevitable (and probably in most reviews) because of a few reasons: the Steven Zaillian script received a re-write, or polish or whatever industry bullshit term you want to use, from the great Academy Award winning Aaron Sorkin, the man who wrote the aforementioned TSN, it’s not only based on a true story but also a best-selling book about the true story (“Moneyball: How to Win in an Unfair Game” by Michael Lewis) and Bennet Miller’s direction, while not nearly as cold, is equally calculated and almost as captivating as David Fincher’s. It’s not as great a film as TSN (a homerun), but few are and we shouldn’t be surprised at how sure-handed and confident a sophomore effort this is from the director, since his first feature film, Capote, not only earned him an Academy Award nomination but it also wound up in the Best Picture race.
One more thing might have contributed to the often times beautiful, sometimes rough and always dynamic cinematography from Oscar winner (seeing a trend here?) and genius Wally Pfister. I love the way he and Miller work in real footage and other stat sheet shots almost like we’re watching a documentary at times or the real thing unfold before our eyes. The have a deft sense for montage which brings me to the music. Mychael Danna’s score is delicate when it needs to be, rousing and inspiring for the few moments when we’re invested in game, and ultimately up to the level of his co-coworkers. The last piece, or pieces to this puzzle, would be the actors and they are are wonderful.
Brad Pitt, is going through an interesting phase in his career that began, well, I guess he’s always had an interesting career but as he gets older the roles certainly have been changing. This is the first role I can remember where he’s just playing a regular guy with a regular, albeit high stakes, stressful and awesome job. Sure, Billy Beane is a great sports talent, both on and off the field, but he’s also very complex; easy-going yet aggressive, doggedly determined but never far from memories of failure, warm and sad. And Pitt handles all of this, and Aaron Sorkin’s lighting dialogue with a great subtlety. This isn’t your showy Oscar role, but it just might be worthy of a look.
Pitt’s playmate in the odd-ball, buddy-comedy side of the narrative is Jonall Hill. Hill’s playing Peter Brand (based on Paul DePodesta, named change for some legal reason), the Ivy League economics major who brought into Bill James infamous mathematic theories to baseball (and sports in general) and specifically to Billy Beane’s financially stunted Oakland A’s. This is easily the best Hill has been (and I loved him in Cyrus) because he spars and contrasts wonderfully with the great Pitt, and he better since they share a large portion of the film.
The rest of the supporting cast are equally great, especially the young Beane, Kerris Dorsey, who I thought might have just been mooching her charm and reactions from acting opposite the handsome leading man, but with 91 episodes of tv under her belt (on one series, that’s just the tip… of the iceberg – you are disgusting) it’s no surprise she’s a pro and her character/song are the emotional backbone. Chris Pratt shows up in a small but key role as well, and his sincerity shines through even though the laughs are mostly left behind. He’s got a lot more to show than just Andy Dwyer (although, I love Andy Dwyer).
It’s a very good film but also hard to feel too jazzed about it, like everything was there but the wow factor. Every single piece is absolutely great… but not magical. I don’t know if I’ll remember any of these names come awards time, I guess we’ll have to wait and see what else is coming down the pike.
Official Synopsis: “Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill and Philip Seymour Hoffman star in MONEYBALL – the Oakland A’s general manager defies conventional wisdom & outsmarts his competition when forced to reinvent his team with bargain players.”