Reviewed by Ian Forbes, Sobering Conclusion
Do you like baseball? I mean, really like baseball? If not, just skip this review and go about your day, never ever thinking of buying a ticket to Moneyball.
However, if you still hold a special connection to America’s third favorite pastime, the true story of Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) and his attempt to change how baseball teams selected players might be up your alley. I say ‘might’ because the fundamental problem with the film is trying to manufacture drama, much like the principle of Beane’s statistics-based approach to filling a team roster is in trying to manufacture wins.
At first, the story vacillates between Beane as a high school senior choosing between being groomed for the majors or taking a full ride to Stanford, and Beane as a GM looking for a new way to do things following the A’s 2001 loss in the ALDS (American League Division Series for you non-sporty types). I suppose it informs the character somewhat but really it feels more like director Bennett Miller’s attempt to make the film more interesting by shifting backwards and forwards, since it largely relies on two-person conversation or shots of Pitt brooding.
Then, once the team has been formed, Miller decides to focus on a win streak the 2002 A’s put together and tries to make us care if they reach the magical 20-game mark, a feat not accomplished in 100 plus years of professional baseball. It’s here that it feels like I’m stuck at a sports bar and no one will let me change the channel (I’d rather be watching ESPN 8 – The Ocho).
Once that bit has gone by, we’re back to seeing if the A’s can pull off a playoff run. Those who follow baseball will know how it all ends, and I guess you can kind of call this section of Moneyball the sport equivalent of Titanic. And then once the season is over, we’re “treated” to seeing if Beane can be wooed away by the Boston Red Sox (again, sports fans know the answer so ‘anti-climactic’ is the nice way of putting this).
There are attempts to soften Beane via the relationship with his daughter. Jonah Hill plays one of the key influences of the statistics-based approach so it’s obvious they were hoping his dry wit would add some humor to an otherwise straightforward and rather pedantic snapshot of one man’s journey to change the game that he loves. Philip Seymour Hoffman is wasted as the A’s coach, Robin Wright mysteriously agreed to play Beane’s ex-wife for two minutes of screen time, and the lone bit of actual energy injected into the film comes from Chris Pratt playing A’s first baseman Scott Hatteberg (but the film isn’t about him so his ability to help pick up the film is few and far between).
The overall result is rather lackluster and although Pitt delivers a decent performance, it doesn’t hold a candle to his turn in The Tree of Life and it simply doesn’t make any sense as to why anyone would choose to watch this without a true love of baseball. Moneyball comes in with a lot of hype because of Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin working on the screenplay but the film ultimately strikes out looking.
Moneyball hits theaters on September 23, 2011 and is rated PG-13 for some strong language.