Saturday, September 24, 2011

Review: Moneyball

Moneyball, in a bold move, is a baseball movie where none of the main characters actually play baseball. Instead it focuses on the more rarely seen aspect of building a team through trading and buying, and while this sounds suspiciously similar to the route taken by the ill fated Two For The Money (does anyone remember that film?) it manages to pull it off spectacularly.

The story itself is concerned with Billy Beane, a former ballplayer turned General Manager of the incredibly poor Oakland Athletics, who is trying to put together a good team on a tight budget. While on a trip to try and recruit new players he meets an assistant who has a different way of looking at teams and hires him, hoping to put together a cheap team based on talented players that, for one reason or another, no one wants.

This being at heart a sports movie, it's obviously not about big intellectual ideas or important events, or anything like that and as such three things have to be in play: The structure and technique have to be well done, the acting has to be good and the story has to be engaging. The story itself is quite engaging, as taking an overdone story from an alternate angle once again proves to be the best way to spice up an overdone story. Which isn't to say that the story itself doesn't have more than a few twists itself, especially as the third act hits and a BIG chunk of the audience expectations gets upended (although those familiar with the actual story will probably see it coming).

The acting is, naturally excellent. It's primarily Brad Pitt's show and he owns it completely both in the rare big shouty scenes and in the quieter scenes that require much more subtle acting. It interests me that the main character is a former ballplayer who's own career reads and is presented, almost like a deconstruction of the myth that's been built up around baseball, but who still manages to find the romance as he puts it, in baseball. Pitt's performance is one of the best of his career, finding the humanity at the center of a bitter and lonely man he's inhabiting.

Of the supporting cast, Jonah Hill is getting the most attention and it's well deserved (has he EVER been good in anything else?) His performance is subtle and quiet, made up mostly of nervous ticks and half stumbling through his lines, but he works excellently across from Pitt, their conflicting personalties allowing both of them to grow as characters, which is what the best supporting characters always do. Phillip Seymour Hoffman does a great job in a relatively minor role and I would be remiss not to mention to mention newcomer (or recent-comer anyway, I've never seen her in anything) Kerris Dorsey as Beane's daughter (unroll your eyes, I'm getting to that).

What shocks me is how well the screenplay and direction works, and how it turns expectations on it's head. The director's last movie was Capote, another excellent biopic that took Hoffman to his well deserved Oscar and the experience shows with good use of long shots and judicious editing. The screenplay was written by Aaron Sorkin (late of The Social Network) and Steven Zaillian (of Schindler's List) and is well written and structured. It manages to not only use the conventions of the genre to great effect, but also bring hidden depths to aspects that don't usually get them. To wit, Beane's daughter isn't a one dimensional tool to humanize her father (even good movies occasionally do this, looking your way The Fighter) but a real person with her own character and even what resembles an arc. It's subtle, but tiny touches like that help turn a good film into a great one.

The math isn't hard on this one guys. Oscar season is just starting and every critic in the world is already telling you to go see this one. So let me join them in telling you that this is one of the best movies to open wide in a LONG while and an easy contender for one of the best films of the year. So go out to see it so you can tell all your friends to go out to see it too.

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he's really surprised that Pitt never gave a big speech. Aren't all sports movie required to have a big speech by law?

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