Sunday 6 May 2012

Moneyball (2011) - Bennett Miller

There's something about American sports that just doesn't translate to UK audiences.  Whilst baseball, basketball, football and ice hockey may have an almost exotic appeal over here, they just don't grip the nation as much as "soccer" or rugby.  So when a film like Moneyball hits UK shores, it doesn't have the same appeal as in its native country.

Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane, general manager of the Oakland Athletic baseball team.  The film is based on a 2003 book by Michael Lewis of the same name and recounts the team's 2002 season in which Beane and his assistant Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) use statistics and mathematical formulae to form a winning team in the face of dire financial circumstances.  The narrative is somewhat of an attack on sporting celebrity and the extortionate salaries paid to top class players, as Beane proves games can be won through a balanced team rather than stars - a theme that also applies to other sports.  Equally, it takes a cynical view on sport as a business, centered on results and not player feelings.

The romance of baseball ultimately wins out, but the film has a cold aesthetic.  It matches Pitt's performance as the cold-hearted Beane, a man who failed as a player himself and is looking to make amends.  He's just not particularly likeable, clinically dismissing players with stoney-faced heartlessness, and it's easy to sympathise with the older scouts - they may be old-fashioned, but their love for the sport is unmatchable.  Thank goodness then for Jonah Hill, consistently nominated for best supporting actor gongs for his role in this film.  He may be the mastermind behind the formulae, but he provides the warm counterpoint to Beale and the likeability factor he's critically lacking.  This is miles away from his comedy Superbad days and proves he is a talent to watch.

Unfortunately, the plot is dull and lacks any significant consequences besides losing, failing to create an engaging drama 
for anyone not overly familiar with the sport.  After all, it's just a game...