It’s pretty safe to say that what little knowledge us Brits have regarding major American sports like baseball, basketball, ice hockey and American football tend to stem from cinema. These titanic past times that comprise a lofty part of US culture and identity just don’t get the coverage they arguably deserve over this side of the pond. They still reign more or less exclusive to our star spangled cousins who, to their credit, have actually given the world some decent films centered on their beloved four like Field of Dreams, White Men Can’t Jump, The Mighty Ducks and Any Given Sunday. So what about Moneyball; Capote director Bennet Miller’s rousing and inspired adaptation of Michael Lewis’ bio’ book about a pivotal period in contemporary baseball starring major league Thespian Brad Pitt? Well, it’s good. Very good, in fact. You could even go as far as saying it’s a little bit special.
Nominated for six Oscars and based heavily on a true tale that unfolded around the early noughties, Moneyball is a character based docudrama that even those with no baseball knowledge can be taken in and moved by. Pitt plays Billy Beane, a former ball player who’s now the haunted general manager of the Oakland A’s; a cash strapped major league team who are down on their luck. They’ve just lost their final and most important game of the season and look set to lose their 3 best players with no financial gain as a result. Beane must now rebuild the team for the upcoming season with next-to-nothing in the way of cash and appeal. Despite resistance from his staff and the media, Beane enlists the help of a Yale educated economist (Jonah Hill) and begins to assemble a team of misfits based on stats, facts and figures and forever changes the way baseball is played.
If, like me, you’re unfamiliar with baseball politics and procedures, a general manager answers only to the club’s chairman and is required to broker deals and contracts for current and would be players. It’s basically his job to pick the players that make up the squad. It’s then down to the head coach and staff to field the team for a given game and implement tactics. Got it? Right, back to the film.
Despite revolving heavily around everything baseball, the lasting impression Moneyball leaves is that it is more of an honest and thoughtful meditation on one man’s desire to make amends and restore a level of personal pride and dignity. As the volatile Billy Beane, Pitt brings his A-game to the field and exhibits all the charm, wit, skills and natural talents that have made him one of the most diverse and commendable actors at work in Hollywood over the past 3 decades. When Pitt’s not dabbling in conventional pieces of high-concept dribble like Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Ocean’s Twelve, he can act up a storm and does so with Oscar-worthy ease in this: his latest and, perhaps, greatest pitch. His portrayal of the bitter and quirky general manager hell-bent on re-writing the rule book ranks easily amongst some of the 49 year old’s best work. As a teenager, Beane was prematurely lured into the pro-leagues with promises of fame and glory. It didn’t work out. Neither did his marriage. So, he turned to scouting in attempt to right wrongs.
Jonah Hill’s assured, Oscar nominated turn as Beane’s studious assistant is also worth a mention for this may signal a break away from the funny fat guy roles that have comprised the bulk of Hill’s career so far. Make no mistake about it though, it’s Pitt who steals the show in what some believe was “the” performance that should’ve bagged him that long overdue best actor gong.
Don’t be fooled by the facade and grandeur of an underdog Hollywood sporting film starring an A-list star or two, Moneyball isn’t your typical sports film. Think Any Given Sunday without the testosterone: very well acted, scripted, shot and peppered with bouts of humour and heart. You don’t have to like baseball or even sport to enjoy Miller’s Moneyball. In only his third film, he has steered a total of 4 actors to Oscar nods now which is an impressive feat to say the least. His heartwarming spin on Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin’s adapted screenplay deserves its place alongside both this year’s best pictures and the all-time greats of character based sporting pictures.