Sunday, September 25, 2011
It's hard to think of a more tired cliche than a rag-tag group of under-performing sports players rising together to win the big game/championship/title. If it's done right, that type of sports film can be great. I have seen it before. Moneyball has elements familiar to the genre. The new aspects are more interesting. Moneyball is a political movie without parties. Co-writer Aaron Sorkin created similar character dramas with the White House staff, a sketch comedy staff, and a sports highlight show staff. Moneyball is in that territory, but lacks the usual intelligent zippy dialogue that we know from every other Sorkin script. Credit Steve Zaillian, an Oscar winning screenwriter in his own right, for tempering Sorkin's flair with a believable tone. These people talk like baseball people. It'd be impossible for Billy Beane (the General Manager of the Oakland Athletics at the center of the story) to look like Brad Pitt, but they can sound alike. I can believe that. There isn't a single showboating performance among the cast. I can't call Philip Seymour Hoffman, Brad Pitt, and Jonah Hill a rag-tag group of under-performing actors. I won't. I will say that they blend together like a real team or ensemble. Hoffman in particular is notable for his ace albeit small role as the Athletics stubborn manager Art Howe. Hoffman's previous work with director Bennett Miller won him an Oscar for his title role in Capote. Art Howe is not Truman Capote. They don't require the same level of bravado or acute mannerisms. Both performances have to work. It's absolutely Pitt's movie, but the "role players" fill the gaps effectively. Pitt is given a character with fun dichotomies. He is both immensely confidant and determined, while quietly vulnerable behind those dreamy eyes. He puts his eggs in the science and statistical baskets, but wavers when his presence at a big game might jinx the outcome. Pitt's very good, but doesn't have to showboat the way he did in his last awards-worthy performance as Benjamin Button. This isn't that kind of movie. It's a sports movie not only about its team, but rather about the entirety of sports. It's not a political revolution Billy Beane and his forward-thinking protege Peter Brand (Jonah Hill in a solid supporting turn) are starting, but, onscreen, it's just as engrossing.
"A smart, intense and moving film that isn't so much about sports as about the war between intuition and statistics. I walked in knowing what the movie was about, but unprepared for its intelligence and depth." - Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times