Posted June 17, 2011 by David Watson in Films
 
 

Moneyball


I hate sports. Pretty much all sports. I’ve never been particularly athletic. I really don’t play well with others. And, unless they involve a mix of pageantry and extreme violence, I’m just not interested in spectator sports.

I hate
sports. Pretty much all
sports. I’ve never been
particularly athletic. I really
don’t play well with others. And,
unless they involve a mix of pageantry and extreme violence, I’m just not
interested in spectator sports.

Football, tennis, cricket, cycling; I’d rather be pushing
drawing pins into my knees than watch them. In fact, the only sport that really holds my attention is
bullfighting.

Bullfighting has everything my sociopathically rigorous
viewing tastes demand. It’s got the
pomp, it’s got the ceremony, it’s got the pretty costumes and, critically, it’s
got the ritualised, extreme bloody violence. Basically, it’s Easter Sunday Mass. With a live crucifixion.

I particularly hate American sports. For starters, I’m not American, I
haven’t been raised on them and I don’t understand the rules. Secondly, no-one plays them except the
Americans. Calling it the World
Series when you’re the only one playing is not only inaccurate it’s just plain
arrogant. Thirdly, they’re too
long. Three hours of watching a Cro-Magnon spit punctuated by occasional bursts
of frantic activity is two hours 59 minutes too long watching a Cro-Magnon
spit.

And the films! God, I hate sports films. I may smear myself with my own
excrement and run through the streets taking random scalps, singing: “Hello
darkness, my old friend,” over and over while weeping hysterically if I have to
sit through yet another film where a plucky team of underdogs are brought
together by a down-on-his-luck coach offered one last chance at redemption and
led by an over-the-hill player aiming for one last shot at glory as they go up
against bigger, better, richer, opponents. The coach won’t get along with his star player but they’ll
put aside their differences and make a spectacular comeback as the team,
against all the odds, makes it to the final where ultimately, win or lose, the
result itself is superfluous. It’s
how the game is played that matters, yeah? Yeah, right…

Which brings us to Moneyball,
the 133 minute-long (too long) true story of a down-on-his-luck coach who takes
a bunch of rejects and builds a team of plucky underdogs for that one last
desperate shot at redemption.
While most of the usual clichés are present and correct in Moneyball’s
starting line-up, the film throws more than its share of unexpected curveballs
(Curveballs! You see what I did
there?) at its audience, not least of which it’s a sports movie with very
little actual sport in it. It’s
also damn good.

After another losing season where his best players are
poached by bigger, richer teams, Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), manager of the cash-strapped Oakland A’s is forced to
rebuild his team from scratch. A
chance meeting with Peter Brand (Jonah
Hill
), a young Economics graduate with some radical ideas, inspires Beane
to hire Brand as his assistant manager and together they set out to change the
face of baseball. Bucking the
accepted wisdom, they take some of the most misfit players in the sport and
build a winning team based not on the conventional worth of the players but on
their statistical ability. But
they face stiff opposition not just from the fans and the media but from their
own staff, including coach Art Howe (Philip
Seymour Hoffman
). With not
just his reputation but his job on the line, can Beane change the team’s
fortunes?

Working from a script by Steve Zaillian and Aaron
Sorkin
, director Bennett Miller
has fashioned a sharp, intelligent, funny, surprisingly uplifting film that
body-swerves sports heroics, completely dispensing with tired clichés like
slo-mo base-stealing and players spotting loved ones amid a 50,000-strong
crowd, in favour of office politics and character development. You know, the kind of things you watch drama for. The action rarely strays onto the field, Pitt’s manager is
too superstitious to watch the games, spending the time driving around while
Hill texts him the plays; this is a baseball movie with precious little
baseball. This is a film about
relationships, about ideas, about belief.
The underdogs here aren’t the team of no-hopers, they’re Pitt and
Hill. The battle they’re locked in
isn’t for the championship but for the soul of their sport. They’re the little guys taking on the
might of corporate America.

Sporting a charming, playful, effortless Pitt performance
that’s sure to be Oscar-nominated and a stunningly good performance by Hill in
his first straight role as the shy, bookish Brand, at it’s heart Moneyball is both a buddy movie
charting Pitt and Hill’s bromance and a metaphor for the effects of the
selfish, ravenous capitalism that has plunged the world into recession. As baseball consumes itself, teams
paying ridiculous high salaries, chasing the best players in a war of
attrition, only Pitt’s Beane and Hill’s Brand see the truth; that the situation
is unsustainable and that the only way to save the game is to tear down the
status quo.

While the film contains some bravura scenes with a phone
negotiation-cum-high stakes bluff by Pitt as exciting a scene as any in this
year’s action flicks, Moneyball
works best in it’s quieter moments; Pitt’s interactions with onscreen daughter
the heartbreakingly good Kerris Dorsey,
Hill’s sweet attempt to fire a player, Pitt alone, his easy, infectious charm
masking a man tortured by doubt and failure, missed chances and unfulfilled
potential.

Soulful and thoughtful, Moneyball
will actually bring a tear to your eye and swell your chest. If all sports films were this good, I’d
take one up.


David Watson

 
David Watson is a screenwriter, journalist and 'manny' who, depending on time of day and alcohol intake could be described as a likeable misanthrope or a carnaptious bampot. He loves about 96% of you but there's at least 4% he'd definitely eat in the event of a plane crash. Email: david.watson@filmjuice.com