Film Festival Today

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Film Review: “Moneyball”

Written by: FFT Webmaster | September 19th, 2011

Brad Pitt makes me almost like baseball. He’s endearing and insists on looking his character’s age.

Brad Pitt is following the George Clooney “no movie makeup” rule. Clooney said: “I was watching ‘Up In The Air’ and thought: ‘Who’s the old grey-haired guy?’ And it was me. I never wear make-up for movies, and now it’s starting to show. You don’t want to try to look younger because you’ll look wrong.”

Remember when Nicole Kidman was roundly criticized for looking like a fashion model in the Civil War drama COLD MOUNTAIN?

Pitt, clearly sick of being beautiful (and with his star power behind MONEYBALL can demand any kind of lighting he wants), allows director Bennett Miller to continually and unnecessarily film him in unflattering shots.

Well, Miller tries. It doesn’t work. Pitt ignites the screen and his energy is infectious. His character’s passion for baseball drives MONEYBALL.

Pitt’s performance makes MONEYBALL a hit.

MONEYBALL is talky. Its Aaron Sorkin’s signature, like “Mamet speak”.* You know it when you hear it. Written by Sorkin with prolific Steven Zaillian, MONEYBALL takes us inside baseball. We get to see how teams are crafted like a chess game and what upper management really does.

It’s a virtuoso of rapid-fire dialogue delivered by Pitt. All the other characters look at him with mouths agape. They are in a movie with Brad Pitt and he’s got fake hair and lousy clothes – and it is just fine.

And the fact that MONEYBALL is about baseball in 2000 makes it all the more realistic. How much can they fictionalize the story? Everybody is still alive. We can Google all of them.

Billy Beane (Pitt) is the General Manager of the Oakland A’s baseball team. He’s also the man who changed baseball and credit is due.

I’m naïve when it comes to baseball, but apparently when the Oakland A’s lost to the New York Yankees in the 2001 playoffs, the A’s three most valuable and irreplaceable players – Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon and Jason Isringhausen – are brought by other far wealthier teams. They haunt the A’s like lost talismans. Beane has to find new players. He doesn’t have a decent budget. And he’s always facing a conference table of veteran scouts who spend their careers evaluating potential players.

If a player has an ugly girlfriend he’s judged an insecure loser and not worthy of consideration. If he’s prone to injury, or over 30 years old, he’s a ghost. If a player has a history of drug use and likes strippers, he’s a TMZ magnet. Can the A’s afford him?

At a meeting, Beane notices that a fat kid’s whispered comment kills his pitch for new players. He knows the kid never walked on a baseball field. His jacket barely fits him. He’s inarticulate Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a scared Yale graduate who is obsessed with baseball statistics. He tells Beane his philosophy and Beane abruptly hires him as his Assistant Manager.

Through flashbacks we learn that Beane was a very promising baseball player who “choked” and disgracefully went into management. Beane gave up a promising education to play baseball. So, washed up at 24, couldn’t he go to college instead of hanging on to “what ifs”?

Beane has an ex-wife Sharon (Robin Wright) who, though living in a Malibu mansion with a new husband, is clearly still in love with him. She looks at him like he’s Brad Pitt in-the-flesh! Beane is devoted to his 12 year old daughter Casey (Kerris Dorsey).

We do not have a clue what went wrong with Beane’s marriage. Did Sharon cheat on him? Did Beane spend too much time in the dugout? He works out too much?

They lost me on the statistics jargon and the theory that players can be analysed to score runs based on past performances on grids. What if a player only slept 2 hours and drank a magnum of champagne the night before a game? What is his stomach hurts from spicy food? Does the equation consider this?

Apparently the sophisticated spread sheets factor in, but ignore, a night partying in Las Vegas. It’s all about the averages and getting on the field that counts.

I think.

I had a problem with the way Brand was written and directed. After being squired around by Beane as his go-to genius, you would think after a while Brand would start to enjoy and even exploit his position. Who wouldn’t? Yet, Brand stays the same open-mouthed, ill-at-ease nerd. You would think Brand would have some fanatical love for players. But no, he’s no fan. He doesn’t want a David Justice signed baseball.

Directed by Miller, MONEYBALL might be counting on baseball’s fans to be a hit, but its Pitt’s solid performance, especially in a captivating scene when he is manning phones and juggling players with bravado, that will carry the word-of-mouth to non-baseball fans.

At the end, we learn that Beane did not accept an offer to leave Oakland for a $12.5 million payday in Boston. So, how much did the A’s give him to stay? And what about Peter Brand? What happened to the mathematician behind the visionary GM?

*David Mamet’s style of writing dialogue, marked by a cynical, street-smart edge, precisely crafted for effect, is so distinctive that it has come to be called “Mamet speak”. His characters frequently interrupt one another, their sentences trail off unfinished, and their dialogue overlaps. Mamet himself has criticized his (and other writers’) tendency to write “pretty” at the expense of sound, logical plots.

When asked how he developed his style for writing dialogue, Mamet said, “In my family, in the days prior to television, we liked to while away the evenings by making ourselves miserable, based solely on our ability to speak the language viciously. That’s probably where my ability was honed.”

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