Saturday, September 24, 2011

Moneyball



Based on Michael Lewis’ novel, Moneyball is the story of Billy Beane’s arrival as the general manager of the Oakland Athletics in 2002 as he helps create a team for the franchise despite its horrible financial situation. Directed by Bennett Miller and script adaptation by Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin based on a story treatment by Stan Chervin. The film is about how a team that seemed down on its luck gets back in shape through unconventional means with help from a general manager and his assistant. Starring Brad Pitt as Billy Beane along with Jonah Hill, Chris Pratt, Robin Wright, and Philip Seymour Hoffman as A’s manager Art Howe. Moneyball is a smart yet entertaining film from Bennett Miller.

After losing the American League Pennant in 2001 as well as three high-profile players, Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane realizes that the budget for the franchise isn’t good. With chances that the team won’t do well for next season and Beane couldn’t get more money from owner Stephen Schott (Robert Kotick). In need to help the franchise and find players for next year to replace Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon, Beane travels to Cleveland to meet with Indians general manager Mark Ellis (Brent Dohling) about trading players. The meeting becomes a disaster until he meets Peter Brandt (Jonah Hill) who was at the meeting as he and Beane talk about the problem with baseball and choosing players right for the team.

Beane takes Brandt in as they go into players who are overlooked yet can bring in runs and hits that can help teams win based on their statistics. With Brandt’s help, Beane decides to rebuild the entire team much to the chagrin of old scouts including Grady Fuson (Ken Medlock) and A’s manager Art Howe. Beane decides to take in players who are defective yet are able to play that includes veteran David Justice (Stephen Bishop), relief pitcher Chad Bradford (Casey Bond), a catcher-turned first baseman in Scott Hatteburg (Chris Pratt), and Jason Giambi’s younger brother Jeremy (Nick Porrazzo). Howe is unsure as spring training happens as Beane hopes to go all the way with this team though the early season results didn’t go well.

Beane and Brandt try to figure what is going wrong as it’s due to the fact that Howe is putting in the wrong players as they’re not performing well. Howe finds himself at odds with Beane as he and the reluctant Brandt realize they have to cut players. When Beane makes a move to get Howe to put Hatteburg on first base, the move would be successful. From going dead-last to suddenly being a contender in the ALC West division by All-Star break, things are going well as Beane puts on more moves while Brandt helps other players. Then a winning streak happens as the successful formula Beane and Brandt created, with Howe finally on board, is gaining waves among the sports media.

The idea of assembling a winning team for a ball club takes a lot of hard work and money. In this dramatic version of a true story about Billy Beane’s controversial yet unorthodox method to build a ball club based on a payroll of $38 million against the New York Yankees’ $120 million payroll. Still, it’s a movie about the world of baseball where it’s not about talent but what a player could bring to a team as talent alone isn’t really enough. At the same time, it’s the story of a man who was once a baseball player that never really got a chance to make it in the major leagues while taking that experience to create a winning team by being a general manager.

The script that Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zaillian creates is very smart about how Beane’s controversial methods worked in the long run while showing the world of what goes on out of the field where scouts and managers try to figure out how to create a team. With Sorkin providing a lot of the baseball elements with his quick-witted dialogue and commentary on the ills of baseball politics without being overbearing. The story is sort of balanced by Beane’s own family life that includes his ex-wife Sharon (Robin Wright) and their 12-year old daughter Casey (Kerris Dorsey) who often asks about his job. Zaillian works on that storyline which allows the story to reveal Beane more outside of baseball as well as play into his past as a failed baseball player. While that approach does make the story a bit uneven, it still works because it remains constant in its exploration on Beane and the world of baseball.

Bennett Miller’s direction is wonderful for the way he takes the drama and lets it feel real without being too dramatic or stylized. While the direction is very straightforward in terms of presentation, he also maintains an intimacy in the scenes between Beane and Brandt while keeping the camera close to the meetings that goes in finding players. Throughout the film, there is humor that is mostly light that keeps it entertaining while Miller also uses old TV footage of games while re-creating the games to add a dramatic element to the film. The baseball scenes show Miller at his best for the way he keeps the audience engaged on whether the team wins or not. Yet, Miller always keep it interesting while the final moments are more about Beane wanting to know if he made a difference for the way baseball politics is handled. Overall, Miller creates a solid yet captivating film about the backstage world of baseball.

Cinematographer Wally Pfeister does an excellent job with the film‘s cinematography to exemplify the green look of the A‘s as well as some wonderful lighting schemes for the interior and some dark shades for other scenes at night including some exterior shots. Editor Christopher Tellefsen does a nice job with the editing as it‘s mostly straightforward while it has a nice rhythm to keep up with some of the dialogue that Aaron Sorkin wrote for the meetings in the film.

Production designer Jess Conchor, with set decorator Nancy Haigh and art directors Brad Ricker and David Scott, do a great job with set pieces created including the posh house that Sharon lives as well as the offices and team locker room. Costume designer Kasia Walicka-Maimone does a good job with the costumes from the suits that Peter wears to the more casual clothes that Billy wears while creating a wonderful look to the A‘s uniforms. Sound editor Ron Bochar does a superb job with the sound work to capture the intimacy of the meetings as well as the roar of the crowd and radio broadcasts that overlaps through some of the moments of the film. Music composer Mychael Danna does a fantastic job with the score by bringing a low-key yet plaintive guitar-driven score to dominate the film along with low yet heavy string arrangements for some of the dramatic moments of the film.

The casting by Francine Maisler is brilliant as it features some cameo appearances from Tammy Blanchard as Hattenberg’s wife, James Shanklin and Diane Behrens as Billy’s parents, Reed Thompson as the young Billy, Brent Dohling as Cleveland Indians general manager Mark Ellis, Reed Diamond as Mark Shapiro of the Boston Red Sox, and legendary metal guitarist Joe Satriani as himself playing the national anthem. Other notable appearances include Robin Wright as Billy’s ex-wife Sharon, Ken Medlock as old-school scout Grady Fuson, Robert Kotick as A’s owner Stephen Schott, and Kerris Dorsey as Billy’s supportive 12-year old daughter Casey. For the roles of the players, there’s Stephen Bishop as the veteran David Justice, Chris Pratt as the nerve-stricken catcher-turned-first baseman Scott Hattenberg, Nick Porrazzo as the playful Jeremy Giambi, and Casey Bond as the weird-throwing relief pitcher Chad Bradford.

Philip Seymour Hoffman is excellent as Art Lowe, the A’s manager who finds himself dealing with Beane’s new tactics as well as using the players he had to use while realizing that Beane’s plans are working. Jonah Hill is great as Peter Brandt (a pseudonym for Paul DePodesta) as Hill brings a very straightforward yet subtle performance as a Yale economics graduate who loves baseball as he becomes Beane’s right-hand man. Finally, there’s Brad Pitt in a winning performance as Billy Beane, the A’s general manager and former pro ball player. Pitt brings an energy to his performance as a man trying to help a team while dealing with his own failures as a player. Pitt also radiates in scenes where he’s in meetings or having simple scenes with Hill where Pitt gets to be funny and Hill as the straight man. It’s definitely one of his best performances that is definitely in line with his recent work in The Tree of Life.

Moneyball is a glorious yet compelling film from Bennett Miller featuring an outstanding leading performance from Brad Pitt. The film is an intriguing drama about the world of baseball politics as Miller, along with the screenwriting duo of Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zaillian, create a film that is very fascinating that isn’t boring about the world of baseball. Fans of baseball movies will no doubt enjoy it while the non-baseball fans will find this to be a very interesting drama. In the end, Moneyball is an extraordinary film from Bennett Miller.

© thevoid99 2011

4 comments:

Andy Buckle said...

Great review. While I have never had much interest in baseball, a good sporting story is usually well received by me, especially one that looks at the behind-the-scenes, coaching, analysis etc. For basketball, I am more of a statistician, analyst than a player haha. I have been hearing great things about Pitt's performance (perhaps he will be a double nominee this year - if not for this, then I hope for The Tree of Life) and any script by Aaron Sorkin is worth a look, right! It's out here in mid-November. Can't wait.

thevoid99 said...

Pitt is really amazing and I think he is in lock for a Best Actor nod for either film. I also really liked Jonah Hill because he played it straight without being very funny and just kept it cool.

I'm not much of a sports fan but I love sports movies and I got really into what goes on behind-the-scenes. I think you will like this.

dtmmr said...

Pitt is so terribly good here that if he got an Oscar nod by the end of the year, I wouldn't be so against it but as for the film itself, it tries a little too hard for it's drama but still works well. Nice review Steve.

thevoid99 said...

@Dan-Thanks. I didn't mind some of the dramatic elements because I did like the stuff between Beane and his daughter.

I sort of prefer Zaillian as a screenwriter rather than as a filmmaker. Though I did like Searching for Bobby Fischer, his remake of All the King's Men was atrocious.