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