It’s a bold move to make a sports film that shows very little of the actual sport in question. When you watch a sports film, you expect a host of clichés that you accept willingly. The team will be in a disastrous situation at the beginning of the movie, a new entity will enter, a coach or player, who will struggle but will eventually win-over the team. The team will lose, then begin to win, and then have a final game which will be make or break for everyone involved. It doesn’t necessarily matter what the outcome of the match will be because ultimately, lessons will be learnt and the team will be better for it.
Moneyball manages to tick a lot of these boxes without ever, really, showing any baseball. The Oakland A’s have very little money and no real hope of attracting players of quality. Brad Pitt introduces the new entity, in the form of statistician Peter Brand, played by Jonah Hill. Jonah Hill’s method of using stats rather than scouts instinct is rejected and mocked at first until it begins to work and then it all culminates with a final game. It’s the same clichés but presented in a much more slick, appealing way.
The first positive is the inclusion of Brad Pitt. Pitt is at the stage in his career now where he can produce effortlessly charming performances that carry drama easily. He never looks like he is having to work too hard to produce the performance but at the same time, never looks like he’s not trying. It’s a balancing act which means he can produce great comedy in the scenes with Hill while still captivating when in a car, listening to a cd made by his daughter, saying nothing.
The film is not about a sports team but about a new way of thinking about baseball. It’s not an accident or oversight that there is very little baseball in the movie because the entertainment in Moneyball is not with the actual sport or performances of the players but with the method by which they were chosen.
That means its down to the scenes involving Pitt and Hill to sell this method and why its important. These scenes are fantastic and you can see why Hill received a best supporting actor nomination. His fast exchanges, playing-off Brad Pitt, are fantastic to watch and make this film so entertaining. You want their system to succeed, particularly when nobody else believes in it.
It helps that the script is written by Aaron Sorkin. He has a great way of delivering punchy, realistic but witty dialogue in a natural way. Although this film is nowhere near the writing level of The Social Network, there are still key scenes, like when Pitt and Hill negotiate player’s contracts and trades, that are full of Sorkin’s pacy but brilliant dialogue.
It was a bold move to create a sports film with very little sport in it though and as interesting as the introduction of the Hill’s system of choosing players is, it does start to lose its appeal as the film progresses. Picking the players is great to watch but seeing the results unfold by watching Pitt’s reaction will never be as interesting as seeing the players actually succeed themselves. It’s a great idea to push against the usual sports movie cliché but some of them are clichés for a reason.
Overall, Moneyball’s biggest success is the casting of Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill and letting them play off each other on-screen. They help make a story about statistics in baseball watchable and entertaining. Unfortunately, the film begins to lose that watchablilty when the stats are successful and to deciding to remove the baseball in a film about baseball is probably a bold step too far.
(1-3 – awful/avoid. 4-6 – average. 7-8 – good. 9-10 – fantastic.)