Baseball and boxing have, for whatever reasons, become the most cinematic of sports, with filmmakers routinely fixated by the two. We recently had Warrior, and now we’ve got Moneyball. Australia may not exactly be mad for the game, but I suspect – I hope – that the latest film from Bennett Miller (Capote) will inspire a few more people to become immersed in it.
Brad Pitt (Burn After Reading) stars as Billy Beane, general manager of the Oakland Athletics – basically, he picks and chooses who the team will hire and let go. When several of the “Oakland A’s” best players depart for greener pastures it is Beane’s job to rebuild with only the limited resources at his disposal (oh you know, a few tens of millions of dollars). With the help of Peter Brand (Jonah Hill, Superbad), a young statistician, he goes about producing a team of misfits that have been left behind due to injury or age.
Moneyball is actually a real life tale, based on the book Moneyball:The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis, and seems ripe for Hollywood. I won’t spoil any of the story’s twists and turns for those who enter the film with a limited knowledge of baseball, but Miller has done a great job with only his third feature, his first since the Oscar-nominated breakthrough of Capote in 2005. Expanding greatly upon that film’s rather insular scope, Miller’s skill has been well-adapted to the larger canvas of Major League Baseball. Cinematographer Wally Pfister (The Dark Knight) make wonderful use of the large stadiums and wide green playing surfaces that much of the sporting action takes place on, but never fails to make the club offices, change rooms and dingy back rooms look equally fine.
Moneyball will be of greater interest to fans of baseball, but even I was surprised at how well the movie made the potentially dry world of sport mathematics into an engaging experience. Surely much of that credit must go to Steve Zaillian (American Gangster) and Aaron Sorkin‘s (The Social Network) screenplay that injects a lot of zippy wordplay that is delivered with more or less aplomb by the cast. Pitt is in very fine form and even Jonah Hill surprises in a role that goes against his usual type. Philip Seymour Hoffman, as Pitt’s sparring partner, gives a typically shouty performance, but what more can we expect from that man?
Never mind its few faults – its 133 minute running time is excessive and some of the supporting character work, like Robin Wright (The Conspirator), is weak – it still hits a home run by turning this been-there-done-that underdog tale into a gripping and emotionally involving time at the movies.
Moneyball is released in Australia on November 10th
Director: Bennett Miller
Cast: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright, Chris Pratt