Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Bennett Miller's "Moneyball" is very much about baseball. Admittedly it's less about the actual games than what goes on behind the scenes. Still, I'm surprised that people thought that the film was hardly a sports movie. As a huge baseball fan, it was a treat to get an approximation of off-the-field politics involving many players that I know pretty well. That doesn't make it a great film or anything (it ain't, ultimately), but it must be said that there were pleasures.

Following general manager Billy Beane's (Brad Pitt) radical, sabermetric-influenced re-imagining of his Oakland A's ballclub following a disappointing 2001 season, "Moneyball" examines what makes a championship team. The scouts believe that using practical knowledge of the game trumps all other strategies. Others, such as Peter Brandt (Jonah Hill), think that paying close attention to statistics can yield an incredibly fruitful organization. Both sides definitely have their ups and downs.

Juxtaposed against the present is Beane's past, where he, as a top prospect, took a major league contract over a full-ride to Stanford. When he lost his confidence in the big leagues, he was left with little and went on to become a scout. It is mentioned a couple of times that Beane's intense adoption of sabermetics possibly is an alley for him to stick it to the scouts who lured him into what would become a dead-end occupation.

Elements typical of baseball movies abound, with some solid, at times delightfully obscure baseball action included. The ending, as well as the played-out game of the long winning streak, are pretty anticlimactic and feel somewhat limited. There are definitely spots of euphoria, however.

Pitt turns in a duly championed performance, not quite as excellent as some have attested but quite good all the same. Hill is not too shabby either, retaining some facets of his usual persona while stepping into slightly new waters. And it's great to see the singularly chipper Spike Jonze in a bit part as Beane's ex-wife's (Robin Wright) new husband, who mispronounces Jason Giambi's name. Speaking of the family-oriented business, the scenes with Pitt's daughter are touching but perhaps a little overdone. They sometimes, though, reach the same sort of romanticism (a term much invoked by Pitt) as the baseball, which I see in retrospect as pretty intentional. Though it is at times drab and derivative, I'm glad "Moneyball" is able to tap into this grace at all. B-

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