We Love… 2011 – Moneyball

Illustration: Adeline Pericart

We laughed, we cried, we sneaked in our own popcorn. 2011 brought with it some memorable trips to the cinema to revel in the joy of film. And so the Film Ireland collection of filmbots look back in love and recall their favourite films of the last year in the latest installment of…

We Love… 2011

Moneyball

(Bennett Miller)

‘… everything… just works incredibly well together …’

Gemma Creagh

Hit-and-miss is definitely a phrase applicable to 2011 cinema, with some gorgeous gems (The King’s Speech, The Help) amongst a host of utterly dreadful films (No Strings Attached, I Am Number Four, and I’m really sorry Derek, I normally agree with you 100% but The UGH Tree of Life) hitting big screens during the year. For those who happened across it, Moneyball is one of those lovely surprises akin to Slumdog Millionaire, as it wallops those expectations right out of the park. Ahem. Unless of course you read some sort of rave review or end-of-year love letter and expected a different type of film, like perhaps, erm, Slumdog Millionaire?

We’ve all seen the typical sports film a dozen times. You know, the one where against all odds the underdogs make it to the finals. The training sequences, tension building, that epic end-match, and finally the familiar suspenseful moment where we don’t know if the last shot made it or not… Well Moneyball does have most of those things, but it just does them better, probably because they’re are all mashed up nicely with the protagonist’s deep introspection

It’s set in the bygone days of the early naughties, and follows the General Manager of the Oakland Athletics and sexy mess Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) from his team’s loss against the New York Yankees. With his lead players leaving for higher paychecks, Beane is finding it rough getting the players he needs with the team’s low budget.

While exerting his outlandish brashness and shopping for players at the Cleveland Indians, Beane happens across Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a Yale economics graduate. Peter shares his theories on the games stats with Beane, including a mathematical formula to find the hidden value in players. Intrigued, and eventually convinced by his methods, Beane hires him as the Athletics’ assistant general manager.

This does not go down to well with the team’s old-school scouts and their manager, Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman). However together Beane and Peter begin rebuilding the team from the bottom up using Peter’s calculations. A season of games sees this method as well as their will tested, and Beane is forced to make some tough personal and professional choices.

Even though sitting as a structured sports movie, what really makes Moneyball great is how it manages to miss every cliché. Sorkin also succeeds in translate Beane’s motivation, as well as the understanding of the other rich characters to the screen, without oversimplifying them or the story. This, I presume, is in no way hurt by the incredible cast, who’s performances overall are quiet and powerful. Brad Pitt embodies Beane and even Jonah Hill’s awkward composition character, Brand manages to hold his own against juggernaut Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Slow, strong and steady is how this film progresses, and everything – from the character development to the editing, right down to the gorgeous camerawork from Wally Pfister, the man behind the bulk of Christopher Nolan’s films – just works incredibly well together.

Moneyball, a cinematic home run if ever there was one, is without doubt dubbed for a nomination for this year’s Oscars. *Shakes an angry fist at The King’s Speech*

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Cinema Review: Moneyball

Brad manages Rounders team

DIR: Bennett Miller • WRI: Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin • PRO: Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz, Brad Pitt • DOP: Wally Pfister • ED: Christopher Tellefsen • DES: Jess Gonchor • CAST: Brad Pitt, Robin Wright, Jonah Hill

Sabermetrics is a term coined by Bill James and defined as ‘the statistical and mathematical analysis of baseball records.’ Moneyball is a true story about statistics and baseball. No wait come back! It stars Brad Pitt; is directed by Bennett Capote Miller; has a screenplay by Steven Schindler’s List Zaillian and Aaron The Social Network Sorkin and is shot by cinematographer Wally Inception Pfister. Surely a team this gifted can overcome the usual strikeout rate for baseball movies outside of the US (where it has already taken a respectable $70 million)?

Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane, a retired baseball player turned general manager of the Oakland Athletics. Due to the team’s limited budget, the A’s are largely a feeder club; annually losing their star players to the teams with deeper pockets, i.e. every other team. Following the loss of their three top players in 2002, Beane takes a radical approach to baseball management after meeting economist Peter Brand (Jonah Hill). Brand is an advocate of the Bill James school of thought and convinces Beane that the established system of baseball player acquisitions is skewed and that he can get a winning team within his meagre budget – a team of apparently washed up players and misfits that other teams have disregarded. Beane must risk it all and go against established baseball practice if he wants to win within his limited budget and change the game forever.

As far as plots go – just like Brand’s theory – this one is a hard sell. Statistics and baseball don’t make for a dream team on this side of the Atlantic. At least Moneyball’s team of players are nothing like misfits in Hollywood. Not only does this team win, they hit a home run, with the script, direction and acting combining to knock it out of the park.

The script is sharp, reminiscent of Sorkin’s The Social Network. Dialogue is witty and feels accurate (real-life baseball players and management were central to the production) without ever slipping into the melodrama so common in sporting movies. The direction is similarly minimalist. Pfister utilises a documentary style with natural lighting and an unobtrusive camera, enhancing the realism of the biopic. The acting is most noteworthy with Pitt and Hill shining in spite of the understated tone of the film.

The presence of Pitt was crucial to this film getting off the ground and he excels in the lead role. His natural charisma and svelte athleticism make him immediately convincing as an ex-pro athlete. Hill is similarly impressive in his finest role yet as the nerdy statistician. Both are utterly convincing and inhabit their roles without ever distracting from the film’s plot. These aren’t the flashy roles that cry out for Oscar® recognition and are doubly deserving as a result.

Moneyball will be a hard sell outside of the US but deserves to succeed. Whether it’s a curve ball or not for the Oscars® remains to be seen but it deserves to be in the starting line-up come awards season.

Peter White

Rated PG (see IFCO website for details)
Moneyball is released on 25th November 2011

Moneyball – Official Website

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