I’m not entirely sure why I had it out for Moneyball. Could’ve been the clichéd rags-to-glory narrative that sports movies are so accustomed to following. Could’ve been Michael Lewis, who, in addition to authoring the source novel for the film, also wrote the book that The Blind Side was based on (which, in any state of mind, could never been construed as a good thing.) Could’ve been that Moneyball’s second lead is Jonah Hill, a tremendously annoying actor who has found monumental success playing the same character in a variety of films.
Could’ve been any of those things, but luckily my preconceived notions, I happily admit, proved utterly fruitless.
In telling the story of how the Oakland A’s went from being one of the worst teams in professional baseball to one of the most respected in a single season, director Bennett Miller has crafted a quiet sensation. What he has done is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in the genre. Miller doesn’t focus on the players or what happens on the field, his primary concern are the behind the scenes tactics. The skill and finesse it takes to assemble and implement a successful team. There are very few scripted scenes of baseball in this film (most is actual archive footage), a risky move for a sports flick. But believe you me, we couldn’t benefit more from Miller’s narrative choices.
There are several people to thank for Moneyball’s success, most notably Brad Pitt, who plays A’s general manager Billy Beane. To put it quickly and bluntly, Pitt is nothing short of miraculous. As Beane, he is quick, sarcastic, ruthless, giving, and, most importantly, wholly convincing. More so than The Tree of Life and Inglourious Basterds, Moneyball relies on Pitt to carry it. Minus the baseball sequences, Pitt is in every scene of Moneyball, firmly cementing, I sincerely hope, that he is far more than a pretty face. The man has genuine talent, and I assume a very busy next few months of sitting front and center at several awards ceremonies.
Aside from Pitt, Moneyball is propelled by a virtuoso script that incorporates the best traits of of its writers. It knows when rev up (via Aaron Sorkin, Oscar winner for The Social Network) and when to slow down (via Steve Zaillian, Oscar winner for Schindler’s List) in ways few films can pull off.
The cast, from the bit players to the major cast, are all gracefully on point as well. Everyone from Philip Seymour Hoffman (who Miller directed to an Oscar for Capote), to Robin Wright, to Chris Pratt, and even yes, Jonah Hill, who has temporarily proven that he is far more capable of delivering what his cruise controlled career has thus far promised.
Die hard sports movie fans will be hit hard by Moneyball. Initially, I believe, they’ll be dismayed by the film’s lack of field time. Eventually, I’m convinced, they’ll come around and appreciate that they’re in the midst of greatness. Most sports flicks end directly after the seminal game that changes, for better or worse, the paths of all the participants involved. Moneyball is far more subtle. Point in fact, when the credits rolled, there were no applause or audible tears. No seat backs slamming into place. There was silence. Awestruck silence. That’s about as rare a quality as you can find in a sports movie. A-