Thursday, 26 April 2012

Moneyball (2011, Bennett Miller)

Moneyball is one of the hardest movie pitches of recent years. Not only does it centre around Baseball (a sport hardly followed or loved by most of the world) but it barely even classifies as a sports film, yes it's about Baseball but it hardly features any at all. It focusses on the economics off the pitch and follows the true story of Billy Beane (played here by Brad Pitt) an ex-player now manager of the Oakland Athletics, a struggling team who have once again lost out at the postseason. With failure still fresh on the mind and three of the team's most valued players jumping ship, Billy knows the current formula isn't working and radical turnaround is the cure.

Beane finds the man he's looking for in young economics graduate Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), after his current team of talent scouts meet his ambitious demands for expensive restructure with blank discord. After both Beane and Brand realise they're on the same page and know an unthought of recipe for success, Brand comes over to the Oakland team to change the sport forever. So why should we care about a sports movie that predominantly swaps on-pitch action and rooting for maths and people sitting at desks or on the phone? Aaron Sorkin is the reason why, as he gives Moneyball the same treatment as The Social Network - making a seemingly impenetrable area of interest into a multilayered and thoroughly enjoyable experience. Joined this time by Steven Zailian on writing duties, the pair construct a story of universial themes with added commentary on the modern business side of sport. Themes of regret, failure, ambition, and acceptance makes the film accessible to anyone.

The big plan at the centre of Moneyball shows Beane and Brand construct a cunning scheme to use their club's limited finance to buy a team skilful enough to win the next season. This involves looking at a player's value based on their statistics alone, only spending what the player will give back in return by their on base percentage. By buying players who have 'hidden' value but are viewed as tainted or defective by other clubs it appears to be career suicide, in true underdog fashion of course there is method in the madness.

Brad Pitt plays Beane with a high strung quality, a fearsome drive to his endeavours that feel suitable traits as we're revealed bit by bit over the course of the film, Billy's past failures. His violent outbursts (all at inanimate objects) grow rather humorous as the stakes rise. Jonah Hill is note perfect as the young, smart, but awkward Peter; Hill is proven a talented performer to be taken seriously here, we can only hope to see more of this from him in the future. Another highlight is Philip Seymour Hoffman as the Oakland coach who's forced to adhere to Beane's new approach under contractual obligation. He has little to do compared with his previous outing with director Bennett Miller; the intricacies of Truman Capote, but Hoffman adds a valued flavour to coach Art Howe, a character which adds further perspective on the proceedings that could easily of been forgotten if cast with a lesser performer, which in Hoffman's case is every other actor in the world. Art's consistent frowning glare is unrelenting and in retrospect is rather hilarious despite lacking comic value at the time.

Miller's unfussy direction is present as it was in 2006's Capote, however cinematographer Wally Phister  raises the visuals well above the bar, maintaining his reputation as one of the greatest in his field today.
But the film's clout really comes from the script, like The Social Network we're provided with a bittersweet ending that asks the question of what it is to succeed. As Billy cruises in his car with a fitting song written by his daughter playing, the scene marks an emotional and resonate ending that stops the tragic man that is Billy Beane leaving your memory too voluntarily. Like Mark Zuckerberg, Billy is put on a pedestal to be considered by all; has he succeeded? What drives him to succeed? Will he know when the goal is met? Does he know what that goal even is?

As previously stated, Moneyball is a hard film to sell to someone who couldn't give a damn about Baseball, hell, even if they did it hardly sounds riveting. However there is something here for everyone, even if it does end up as a pleasant surprise. Though we don't get to know the players, this story of discovering self worth is touching and is brought out well. A team made of players from the scrap heap breaking the record for most consecutive wins in Baseball history is an against the odds triumph to warm ones' heart. Moneyball succeeds past any inherent problems through its humanist qualities, making it a universial story that will strike a chord with anyone willing to give it a go.