Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Moneyball (2011) – Review

Review: Moneyball is a good sports drama that thrives on excellent writing, but may have been more concerned with character than story. At its core, the story is about a man, Billy Beane the General Manager of the Oakland A’s, who embraces a new way of analyzing players and revolutionizes the game of baseball. However, director Bennett Miller does not allow to film to play as a typical sports drama. Sure, there are sequences and structural references to the classic sports story (nobody believes in the team to being with, they start down, then things get better, then they ascend to greatness or almost), but Miller seems to be much more interested in the character of Beane than the exploits of the A’s in their first Moneyball-era season of 2002 (and I enjoyed the sequences that did involve the team to the extent that when the camera left them to focus somewhere else, I wanted it to return, as if the character stuff was getting in the way of the baseball stuff – probably because I enjoy baseball movies so much). Miller wants to know why Beane would forsake the traditions of how scouts and baseball people had always evaluated players for this new seemingly radical model, and most of the film digs into that question. These sequences are effective as well, especially in their ability to connect Beane to the audience (which is behind him 100%, completely embracing the mantra of the new statistical baseball model for players). However, there is a disconnect between the slow character piece narrative and the typical baseball movie narrative. The pacing and rhythm feel off between these two aspects of the film, resulting in the overall narrative dragging at times (I would also argue that the ending is not wholly satisfying as well as a result). As a whole the film is problematic in its overall pacing and structure, but Miller is able to overcome this with fantastic scenes and sequences (sort of a ‘the sum of the parts is greater than the whole’ type thing). It is not a crippling issue, but it holds Moneyball back from being a brilliant film (as there are certainly moments in which it does feel like one). That being said, from a scene-writing and performance perspective, Moneyball is very good. It is a great character drama and a great sports drama, but does not come together to be a truly great movie (but it is really close).

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: Bennett Miller, now with two narrative feature films under his belt, has made a case for himself to be mentioned among the best directors of his generation. He is certainly a master of character dramas, as evidenced both by this film and Capote. I look forward to seeing what he does next. Mychael Danna’s score has a fantastical feel to it, which coupled with cinematographer Wally Pfister’s work fits the overall feel of the film well. The cinematography is very good, especially in the incorporation of historical footage and then matching it up to what was shot for the film. The baseball scenes have a very atmospheric look to them which works well, as if the audience is watching something grand and outside of time (fitting the mythos of baseball). Jess Gonchor’s production design is very good as well. The script was written by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, though it is the work of Sorkin and his fantastic dialog that steals the show in a number of scenes. As a character piece, however, the success of the film largely comes down to its performances, which were all very good. Stephen Bishop and Chris Pratt are good as A’s players that Beane interacts with on a more personal level, while Philip Seymour Hoffman is fun playing off Brad Pitt’s charisma as sort of a black hole of emotion and inconvenience. Jonah Hill does well is his first major dramatic role. But, it is Pitt and his excellent performance that helps the film overcome some of its pacing and structural issues. He is wonderful. He plays Beane as sort of like a modern-day maverick cowboy – stoic and unwavering.

Summary & score: Moneyball has aspects of a typical sports drama (or baseball movie), but at its heart it is a very good character piece with great writing and lead performance. 8/10

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