Moneyball – Review


Oscar bait

If you want to know the power of a movie star to get a project into production, look no further than MoneyBall. Originally halted before production was set to begin for creative purposes, Brad Pitt seemingly resurrected a passion project that looked to be dead and is now in prime position to make another run at an Oscar. And that’s what Moneyball is going to be: prime Oscar bait. It’s a similar film, in an odd way, to last year’s Oscar winner in The King’s Speech but without the brilliant lead performance.

Billy Beane (Pitt) is the general manager of the Oakland A’s coming off the biggest year of his career in baseball. When other teams sign away his best players due to a lack of budget, Beane is left with old school thinking in a game that is rapidly evolving away from the small markets. He doesn’t have the money to go after superstar players and is stuck in a quandary: How does he compete in a new world without the tools to do so?

His solution is taking the advice of an Ivy League grad (Jonah Hill) in his first job as he tries to rebuild the A’s through a new way of evaluating talent: Sabremetrics. Using advanced statistics taking into account the current numbers of the day, and interpreting them for a variety of things, Sabremetrics changed the way we look at the game. It went from determining a hitter’s worth by the big power numbers like home runs and RBI’s to things like WAR and VORP changing the way we look at the game.

This is the story of that magical season after the A’s lost a number of first rate players in free agency. Coming off a playoff season, no one expected the A’s to be able to compete. Beane brought the A’s back by changing the way we look at the game, using advanced statistical analysis in the place of hunches and raw data that populated the game. As he runs into hurdles from everyone around him resisting his methods, the ballyhooed concept of “Moneyball” ends up winning out and the A’s would win as many games that year as they did the year before. The rest of the league would adapt these methods of analysis and baseball would be forever changed.

The film follows Beane as he struggles to make the changes and convince everyone around him that he’s going to be successful, going to lengths to prove it. Moneyball is clearly meant to be a showcase for Brad Pitt to try and win an Oscar, as the film is dedicated to him pulling off an acting showcase, but the problem is that he just doesn’t have that next gear to really pull the film beyond merely being a tale of a man bucking the odds and reinventing the system.

It’s the one that’s always separated Pitt from his contemporaries like George Clooney. He’s a talented actor, and oodles screen presence, but he just doesn’t have that next gear to turn a film that doesn’t have a high ceiling in terms of quality into something magical. He’s good, and might get a slew of nominations because of his reputation, but this isn’t his strongest work by far. He’s perfunctory for the film’s first two acts but lacks that final gear in the film’s finale, the one where it needs a brilliant performance from its main character, to pull the film out of merely being just good.

That seems to be a recurring theme in the film as it just doesn’t have that final gear to pull it over the hill from merely good to great. Bennett Miller managed to bring one out of Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote, and Hoffman manages to put in strong work for what’s a small supporting part, but Brad Pitt doesn’t do anything more than play his usual sorts of characters: charismatic good looking guys struggling for something.

Moneyball won’t join the pantheon of masterpiece baseball movies like Eight Men Out, Bull Durham, Major League, The Natural or Field of Dreams. But it’ll find itself in the Hall of the Good but not Great Films, which isn’t a bad place to be in.

Director: Bennett Miller
Notable Cast: Brad Pitt, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jonah Hill
Writer(s): Stan Chervin, Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian based on the novel “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game” by Michael Lewis

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