Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Review: Moneyball

I had fairly low expectations for Moneyball when the trailer was first released.  The buzz on the film was that the source material – Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis – would not lend itself to compelling theater and that the only reason this film was greenlit was because it became Brad Pitt’s pet project. As an avid baseball fan with a recollection of the season that the film centers on, I found the film entertaining and fairly accurate albeit with the typical Hollywood spin.  Brad Pitt does a nice job of blending into the role of Billy Beane and while it is a stretch at times to view Jonah Hill as a Peter Brand (who those in the know really know is Paul DePodesta), the chemistry between the two as mentor/prodigy works very well.

One of the key strengths of the movie is that it is grounded firmly in baseball reality and director Bennett Miller pays careful attention to maintain authenticity.  It is nice to see familiar names of players who played and then disappeared into retirement obscurity flash across the screen one more time in MLB licensed attire.  A pet peeve of mine in sports movies is when filmmakers fail to strike deals with league and players associations and end up using cheap facsimiles of professional sports franchises (As was the case in “The Game Plan”).

As for the cast, their collective performance was fair.  Besides Pitt and Hill, very few were asked to do much in this film.  Phillip Seymour Hoffman for one does a great job of disappearing into the role of the cantankerous Art Howe and while Kerris Dorsey does a nice job of bringing the family element into the proceedings, I have to admit it was the scenes that were not baseball-centric that were amongst my least favorite in the film.

My one significant issue with the film is that in the interest of dramatic license, the talent on the Oakland team is drastically downplayed.  Even with the departure of Damon, Giambi, and Isrinhausen, the Oakland club was loaded with three front-line starting pitchers, a dynamic left side of the infield, and some good complimentary parts.  But those names and faces fade to the background in order to convince us that Beane and Brand are not only radical thinkers, but geniuses as well.  To the casual baseball fan or one who isn’t a fan at all, this point becomes completely moot.

I absolutely recommend this film for those who like sports movies.  Seeing it on the big screen will provide some great visuals of the ballparks.  For those who are not sports enthusiasts, this movie plays more as a rental.  Even if you’re a baseball novice, the pace of the movie is brisk, the storytelling is sound, and Brad Pitt brings his usual film presence.  All this adds up to two highly entertaining hours.

Standout Performance: In limited screen time, Phillip Seymour Hoffman shines with his complexity and authenticity.


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