Saturday, September 24, 2011

Moneyball Review

Rottentomatoes.com: 94% 
Commonsensemedia.org: 4 out of 5 Stars 
Metacritic.com: 87 out of 100
IMDB.com: 8.0 out of 10 
The Movie Man Rating: 4 and 1/2 Stars 


MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some strong language 
Please Note that there may be some spoilers in this review.



Despite my initial expectations for Moneyball, it, in the end, emerges as a triumphant and engaging film. This film has been getting Oscar buzz for the last couple of months because it is Aaron Sorkin’s first work on a screenplay since The Social Network (which won him an Academy Award) along with Steven Zailian, who wrote Schindler’s List and Gangs of New York. Moneyball is based off the Michael Lewis book- last time a Michael Lewis book was adapted The Blind Side was created, and received a Best Picture nomination as well as a Best Actress win for Sandra Bullock.



Now, Michael Lewis books are very document-like and its main appeal for directors is the information, because it provides ample opportunity for adaption. One of the things wrong with The Blind Side is that it glossed over its issues. Moneyball, a statistical book, seems best suited for documentary, but in Sorkin’s hands, there was hope. You see, The Social Network was based off the book by Ben Mezrick. In my opinion, the main reason for that film’s success was the screenplay- Sorkin provided in Network his singular gift for making statistics absorbing and cinematically engrossing- because he understands the mutual credit that human psychology and modern technology has in this information age.



He takes the same approach when writing Moneyball. A situation that involves mathematics as an approach to change, with humans mixed up in the middle to see how they will react to that precise range of variables. He tries to recreate his winning success once again, but the difference between this and Network is that the changing world played only a backdrop to the human drama- but the fact that modern technology was changing the world takes center stage here.



The movie centers around Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) and his arrival as the Oakland A’s new General Manager. After a good season that ended with them losing the playoffs, the Oakland A’s loses their three team stars to teams willing to pay more. They can’t replace their team members because they’ve only got a 30 million dollar budget to offer their players- while the Yankees have 110 million.



Billy is faced with the problem of scouting new players- his board, a range of crotchety old men, are stuck with the old ways. This one’s got an ugly girlfriend. The other one pitches funny. At this point, he knows he needs to find a new way to get players. He meets Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) a young, intelligent Economics graduate from Yale, who thinks he’s found a new, better way to find players- statistics. He’s created an algorithm where they can mathematically find which players are best suited for different positions- but they can also get them cheap, because other scouts, stuck with the old ways, don’t realize potential in these knew players.



After a couple of expected bad games, Billy and Peter trade up players they think are better suited. They start winning all their games- and on their way to a new record. Newscasters everywhere still say that Beane can’t do it. That there’s no way to reinvent a game that they’ve been doing for so long. But he continues to move on. He remembers that a scout once told him that if he chose the Mets over college, that he would be a big shot. But, sure enough, he lost his chance at education and got cut loose. He sticks with statistics.



Again, this movie was a lot better than I thought it would be. Jonah Hill, in a rare serious role, has easy, brilliant chemistry with Brad Pitt, which I think makes the movie. Brad Pitt shines in this film, as always. This is his best performance since The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. He’s charismatic and carries the film in the long stretches with no development. Phillip Seymour Hoffman, in a chameleon role, isn’t as notable, but still as good as he always is. The scene where Pitt and Hill balance two phone conversations while discussing which players to buy was particularly terrific.



Bennett Miller directs with emotional consideration and dramatic thoughtfulness here- he and Aaron Sorkin don’t have the mutual vision that Sorkin and David Fincher shared, but he still directs the film sharply and compellingly.  



This movie is a fan that even non-baseball fans will enjoy. This looks like a big Oscar contender, and might finally get a win for Brad Pitt. It’s really inspirational without bordering on schmaltz, with great performances and sharp, witty, dialogue. It’s captivating, contemplative, and much like its protagonists, succeeds above all expectations. One of my favorites of the year.