17 Oct

Title: Moneyball
Bennett Miller
Writers: Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, based on a story by Stan Chervin, which was based on the book by Michael Lewis
Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Chris Pratt, Casey Bond, Robin Wright
MPAA Rating: 
PG-13, some strong language
133 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
Rotten Tomatoes: 


This is why I love the final trimester of the year, I mean, it took me 130 days since the year started to see what I considered the first perfect film of the year, The Tree of Life, 61 days after that to see the second perfect film of the year, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, and 66 days after that one to see the third one and so far the best film of the year, Drive. Those are pretty big gaps between films I have given perfect scores to, but as we all know that’s to be expected, because studios hold off on releasing their best films until this final stretch of the year to capitalize on timing and hope that its critical darlings can translate the buzz into Oscar gold come February, so the gap between the third perfect film I have seen all year and the fourth one is now just a mere 2 days. That’s right, Moneyball is another one of those absolutely perfect films.

When Moneyball was first announced it was greeted with a helluva lot of trepidation, I mean, they were planning on making a film based on a book about baseball statistics, so it didn’t necessarily sound like a surefire homerun, if you’ll pardon the pun. Plus the road to the screen for this one was a particularly troublesome one, Stan Chervin wrote the first draft of the screenplay back in 2004 (he gets a story credit in this film), but by the time Brad Pitt committed to the project he had dropped out, which meant he was replaced by Steve Zaillian to work on another version of the script. David Frankel was the brought on board to direct but then he was also replaced by Steven Soderbergh. And the film was literally just a few days from starting filming when Sony put it on hold, replaced Mr. Soderbergh with Bennett Miller and got Aaron Sorkin to write a third version of the screenplay (though Mr. Zaillian still gets co-writing credits), and Jonah Hill was brought on board to play a character that wasn’t really in the other versions but replaced one that was originally set to be played by Demetri Martin. So yeah, this one was a long time in the making, and usually when a film encounters this many obstacles it means it’s probably no good, but I guess it’s kind of poetic considering the subject matter that this is one that defies the odds.

And I guess it was only fitting that it was Mr. Sorkin who eventually got to handle the screenplay for this film and make it as good as it was, because he won the Oscar last year for adapting another book and subject matter that people said wouldn’t lend itself to make for a good film, and that turned out to be The Social Network, another perfect film to me which I ranked as the second best from all 2010. And Bennett Miller is obviously a tremendously talented director, and the fact that he took six years before finally landing on this film as his follow up to Capote (which got him an Oscar nomination) means that the guy knew there was a story worth telling here. Because the story told in Moneyball really is awesome, and it’s awesome because they take a baseball story but make it transcend its limitations and be just as insanely appealing to both fans and non-fans of the sport, because when it’s all said and done this is a story about life and it’s super smart and funny and occasionally touching, led by two stellar performances from Mr. Pitt and Mr. Hill.

Because this film really does have a Brad Pitt that’s in full-on movie star mode, delivering one his best performances to date and one that will certainly give him a good chance to score an Oscar nomination and maybe even a win if he’s campaigned the right way. And Jonah Hill gives a truly groundbreaking performance the likes of which we haven’t seen him give before, and shows that he’s not just the funny guy but can seriously show some strong dramatic chops as well, a true revelation from him. And I really love that because of them this gets to be a film based on a book solely aimed at baseball nerds that will easily manage to really rock the socks off of those nerds, while still appealing greatly both to regular fans of the game who aren’t that concerned with statistics as well as people who don’t really like baseball all that much and can’t understand why a game takes so long. This is a film that has true soul.

The story of Moneyball focusses on the 2002 Oakland Athletics, a team that had the lowest payroll in the League and began that season losing eleven games in a row but that eventually, in the same season, sparked up a twenty-win streak, a record in American League history. This is a remarkably smart and deep film, and it’s not just about sports, not just about the statistics that made that team such a success, but there’s a real human story behind it all. And the guy we focus on is Billy Beane, the General Manager of the A’s who was a former player himself and really hated losing, a guy who had led the A’s to the post-season the previous season only to have them be defeated by the eventual champion New York Yankees team and then lose his three best players (Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon and Jason Isringhausen) to bigger-market teams that could offer bigger paydays.

So we see a guy who has to rebuild his team, but has to do so by finding a new approach to achieve such a success because he can’t just throw money at players the way bigger teams can. That new approach comes in the shape of Peter Brand, Mr. Hill’s character, an economist who Beane hires as his new Assistant GM because he has developed a new statistical method to find a way to find and use undervalued players to their fullest potential, something that would help save the A’s and change the game as a whole. And even hearing about how this sabermetric approach works is amazing, much like how hearing about hacking worked was amazing in The Social Network, it just feels incredibly awesome, and it’s so awesome because, much like that other Sorkin-penned film, while the characters start focussing on this hard-to-explain things, the film becomes an amazing deep character study, using these abstract discussions about complex stuff to show some really deep emotional realities.

And this really is the perfect Brad Pitt performance, and I’ll tell you why. He’s obviously one of the world’s biggest movie stars and his name carries a lot of weight and his movie star-sized charisma and good looks have helped carry films like the Ocean’s trilogy and Mr. & Mrs. Smith to really great commercial heights, but his finest acting displays have been in films like Twelve Monkeys and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, smaller films that don’t have him being a moviestar but that instead see him really going deep into his characters. And his performance as Billy Beane in Moneyball is the ultimate Brad Pitt performance because it manages to marry both of those qualities, as he gives a performance that’s certainly very deep and finely nuanced while still embracing his movie star appeal, charming us like crazy when he has to, but showing us a lot of his character his just his looks and actions as well. It’s really great how he plays this character, a guy that’s just insanely driven and who’s also a lonely man, recovering from a failed marriage as he keeps being a really loving father to his daughter.

And like I said, Pitt is not the only one showing greatness here, because the guy with whom he does some of his soul-baring in this film, Jonah Hill, goes at it toe-to-toe with him. Because this film is really about them, the players don’t figure in it as much, this is about the GM and the guy that does numbers for him that stand together and create a new theory that defies the ideology that had dominated the sport for over a century. And Mr. Hill’s character was changed by Mr. Sorkin from the script he was given because originally it was meant to be a former athlete, which was what happened in real life, but Mr. Sorkin changed that to give us an anxious misfit who really didn’t fit in this world at all, and what Mr. Hill does with that character is just tremendous, and he’s also getting some deserved Oscar buzz.

This is the third best film of all 2011 so far, and the fact that Brad Pitt has appeared in two of the four I have given a perfect score to so far really show us how great he is at choosing his projects and how fantastic a year he’s having (though I’m still calling 2011 the year of Ryan Gosling). Moneyball is a film deeply embedded with numbers but that’s really just about the people who crunch those numbers, and the relationships they build with one another. That we have such a skillful director and writers working with a team of actors that really make it work means that this is a film that manages to be appealing to everyone and not just the diehard fans of the sport, as it finds the right balance between it all while never once losing its entertainment value.

Grade: A+


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