Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Moneyball (2011)

Director: Bennett Miller                                Writers: Steven Zaillian & Aaron Sorkin
Film Score: Brian Transeau                          Cinematography: Steve Bernstein
Starring: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Robin Wright and Philip Seymour Hoffman

A lot of times true stories can be a bit tedious, but this is one that really works. Moneyball is the story of baseball general manager Billy Beane and his dramatic turnaround of the Oakland A’s franchise in 2002. There are a couple of things that the film has going for it. The first is, obviously, Brad Pitt. I understand that there are a lot of people who don’t like him. Fine. But there’s also no denying that what he does do, he's very good at. If you can’t get past that, well . . . The second thing is the writing. It’s an interesting combination of Steven Zaillian, who is best known for his more serious dramas and Aaron Sorkin who is a master of contemporary dialogue. All of it goes to making a very entertaining film.

The story consists of two parallel narratives. One is the baseball career of Pitt as Beane, which he began as a prodigy. As the years went on, however, he failed to live up to that promise. He never became the star that the scouts predicted, and that fact came into play later on in his decision to hire Jonah Hill, who has a completely different conception of putting together a team. Rather than looking at players who are stars, or who can do a bunch of things, Hill informs Pitt that all they need to be interested in is if players can get on base. Rather than buying players, the A’s need to be buying runs. Runs win games. Of course, his scouts and coaches suddenly hate him for going in a different direction and don’t want to give him the chance to prove that it can work.

The film is really a character study more than anything else. In the current story line Pitt is also dealing with a divorce and parenting his daughter. There’s a kind of unconscious parallel between his being a parent and the managing of the ball club. His employees, including the manager, become petulant and disobedient, just like teenagers. In fact, his daughter displays a lot more maturity that the “boys” on her father’s team. What is so inspiring is Pitt’s determination to see the thing through to the end. In spite of how his coaches attempt to subvert his system, causing losses to pile up early in the season, he refuses to give in to them. He is in charge, and ultimately he is responsible, and if he’s going to go down in flames he’s going to do it by embracing his beliefs, not letting his employees undermine them.

It’s difficult to convey exactly why this makes the film so great. Primarily it’s an allegory for life, for the ability to come up with something new, go against conventional thinking, and above all stick to your belief no matter what the consequences. In fact, some would say that negative consequences teach us more than our success--and this comes into play at the end of the film in a way that might cause some to think the ending is something of a disappointment. In fact, the challenge that Pitt faces at the end of the film is no doubt more satisfying in the long run than the path he could have chosen. Moneyball is satisfying on so many levels, but probably not in a way that most people consciously understand. Watch it again, however, and think about Billy Beane’s determination. From where I sit, THIS is the most inspirational baseball film ever.

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