Wednesday, January 25, 2012

MOVIE REVIEW: Moneyball (2011)

This is not an original thought, but the fact that this movie exists at all is pretty astonishing. It's journey from nothing to major motion picture is a strange and seemingly well-documented (and most likely very boring) tale that, when dissected to the very core of its fabric, comes down to one simple and odd fact: Brad Pitt must be a pretty big baseball fan.

Because this movie doesn't get made without him, he being both its star and its main producer. Everything considered, for a sports fan, that a big budget film based on the 2002 Oakland A's is a real thing still feels pretty weird. The book Moneyball, which used said team to make a bigger point about baseball economics, was published a year later, and was instantly popular and well-received, but nothing about it screamed COOL MOVIE. I can recall reading bits and pieces on cinema blogs about Moneyball: The Movie rumors, and thinking, "weird" and also, "no way is that gonna be good if it ever happens."

But lo and behold, this film is alright. Jonah Hill is not the best supporting actor of 2011 but he's good in his role as the Bill James disciple, wet-behind-the-ears Yale grad who is tagged to be the brains behind the rebuilding process in the wake of the A's losing star players such as Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon to contracts they can't afford. The first hour is the most effective, blending effortlessly scenes of Oakland GM Billy Beane's (Pitt) playing-days youth with his modern struggle to succeed with a small budget team in what many feel is an unfair business climate. This is boring shit. And it's no surprise that Aaron Sorkin is co-responsible for the excellent screenplay which is at the heart of why this thing works. It reminded me of The Social Network, which Sorkin also wrote, in the way that it used fast cuts between quick scenes, and in this case: jumbles of stats and highlights as well. An energy is created that diminishes the dullness of watching grown men argue over what baseball stats are most important.

That being said, Moneyball eventually starts to drag. A scene depicting Pitt and Hill making a late season trade comes across as corny and unrealistic, and--worst of all--overlong. This movie started to really lose me right before its climax (the A's historic winning streak) but that sequence was well-done and offered some redemption.

Also, secondary character development is (predictably) an issue, for various reasons that occur when you are dealing with real people who are all still alive and well, and not much older than the time you are depicting. Two examples are David Justice, who I saw enough of growing up to know he doesn't really look, talk or act like that (you can't miss all three), and Chad Bradford, whose only line is an odd religious anecdote that has no bearing on the rest of the plot (I get it: there are a vast number of different personality types in [literally any given workplace]).

Nitpicking perhaps, as this is the crux of any sports movie with recognizable (and especially current) athletes as the focus. This is why they are usually the least successful 'type' of sports movie. The best sports movies oftentimes revolve around fictional characters or lesser-known/unheralded stories--think Rudy or Rocky or Hoosiers. Films where our memories are taken out of play.

There's probably a hundred ways in which this film could have been screwed up, and definitely a hundred excuses for why it shouldn't have been made in the first place. But overall it's fun and enjoyable, and will jog your memory of an otherwise unmemorable sports team.

SCORE: 7/10

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