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Saturday, 18 February 2012

On 18.2.12 by KieronMoore in , , , ,    No comments
A film about baseball, eh? Does it hit the home run, or is it a, erm, own goal? That’s a baseball thing, right?

The premise of Moneyball highlights its major flaw – the true story of the Oakland A’s, the first baseball team to use computers and formulae rather than instinct to choose their players, a plan orchestrated by General Manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt). Firstly, I find it very difficult to take baseball seriously. Secondly, even if I did care about the sport, this would be a hard cause to get behind – surely the use of such a mechanical system dehumanises baseball? A more conventional narrative would have the underdog striking out against the computerised system to do things based on instinct and character, and, well, some conventions exist for a good reason. It may be one of the more interesting stories that could be found in the recent history of the sport, but it certainly doesn't work too well as the cheery cinematic story Moneyball aspires to. There are also problems with the pacing of the film, which drags the team’s losing streaks out for far too long.

Nevertheless, two strong elements turn the film into something watchable and even enjoyable. One is a script co-written by Aaron Sorkin. His trademark fast, overlapping dialogue is present; convincingly realistic yet with a series of laugh-out-loud lines rivalling the funniest The Social Network has to offer.

This intelligently crafted dialogue adds to the realistic style of the piece, which feels very much like a documentary at times; slow editing and handheld camerawork build on this. This is certainly an interesting and unusual approach, which, though marred by problems such as the pacing and predictability – it’s often easy to guess how the upcoming game is going to go from the musical score and the choice of shots – makes it more interesting a watch than many other, more typical, sports movies.

The second major plus point is Brad Pitt’s performance as Beane. Given his, as I’ve mentioned, questionable cause, and my perspective as the least sporty person this side of the Atlantic, it was always unlikely that the character would appeal to me. Yet Pitt’s portrayal of him as a conflicted and complex figure, contrasting his anger at the failures both of the team and of himself, having turned down a Stanford scholarship only to underperform as a baseball player, with his desire to prove himself and his compassion for his team and his daughter (who did seem a little tacked on for the sole purpose of making Beane more sympathetic), is an exceptional and subtly drawn performance, certainly worthy of any award nominations it receives (though I’m still backing Gary Oldman for the Best Actor Oscar (which George Clooney is going to win)).

Though too long and heavily flawed by both the structure and the premise of the narrative, Moneyball’s script and star performance make it an interesting and unusual film.

The answer to my original question: it gets to at least first base. Or is that a reference to sex, not baseball?

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