Though Oscar mania has well and truly evaporated, it’s hard to approach a film that received six nominations in the same way you would your average sports drama. It’s lucky, then, that the fuss over Moneyball is completely justified.
Joining Billy Beane’s (Brad Pitt) Oakland A’s in 2001, director Bennett Miller promises authenticity from the start, combining archive footage with slick montages that work together to send up the team’s journey as an impossible feat. These montages may depend heavily on statistics, but they never overload the brain and instead serve as a great source of history for those who are new to baseball.
With The West Wing, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and Sports Night between them, Zaillian and Sorkin’s screenplay balances the political and baseball lingo as easily as you would expect. Often similar to The Social Network in tone (mainly due to Mychael Danna’s score), conversations around the management table zing with a healthy mix of tongue-lashings and comedy as the scout’s faith in Beane’s methods are sorely tested.
Introduced as broken-down and weary, Beane is not the sort of character we are used to from Pitt. Sharing a firm belief with Saoirse Ronan’s Hanna – ‘adapt or die’ – he delivers one of his best performances to date, allowing Billy to be both reserved and authoritative. Any sense of showmanship is left behind, giving Pitt the opportunity to remain incredibly natural throughout and scenes shared with his young daughter, Casey (Kerris Dorsey), are equally heartwarming and bittersweet. Sidestepping the potential for family drama prevents the film from losing its focus and any noticeable issues are cleverly downplayed to let us draw our own conclusions.
However it’s Jonah Hill who is the real revelation as Peter Brand, his physical ability transforming him into a socially awkward and fiercely devoted Yale graduate who is completely out of sorts amongst Oakland’s scouts. Cagey and quiet, Hill appears to achieve the impossible by turning himself into a small character; an observer who holds the secret to the team’s success. Initial back-and-forth between Peter and Billy provides some of the most satisfying parts of the film and a moment of sheer elation during the transfer window confirms what an inspired casting choice Hill was.
Excelling in its casting, those on the pitch are technically brilliant and never venture into the danger zone of appearing to be actors who were asked to learn baseball purely for the sake of the film. Assisted by Wally Pfister’s stunning cinematography, the pitch is portrayed as hallowed ground and shots of pitchers throwing the ball towards the screen have extreme goosebump potential.
For a sports film, Moneyball is definitely not fast paced and may leave some frustrated. It’s an extremely intelligent and fascinating biopic that gives way to some wonderfully subtle moments of comedy and personal heartache, and if you think it’s a little too neat and formulaic, you’ve just found the parallel to Beane and Brand’s methodical approach. Not so much an underdog story as one of second chances, it adds another strong central performance to Pitt’s body of work while most importantly introducing us to a brand new Jonah Hill.
Blooper – Brad Loses It
Billy Beane: Re-inventing The Game
Drafting The Team
Moneyball: Playing The Game