Toronto Review: Bennett Miller's Captivating 'Moneyball' Adaptation
by Alex Billington
September 8, 2011
I'm a sucker for inspirational sports films. As soon as our team starts winning, that's when I start grinning. Moneyball, adapted from Michael Lewis' book, isn't your conventional sports film. Not only does it have Aaron Sorkin & Steven Zaillian credited for the script, but it's directed by Bennett Miller (Capote), and focuses on Billy Beane, the Oakland A's general manager who built a team based on statistical strengths. The film, which had revisions after Steven Soderbergh left the project, has remnants of his semi-documentary concept, but also has a compelling story centered on Brad Pitt as Beane that builds throughout the film.
Pitt plays Beane, a former ball player who is one of the youngest general managers in professional baseball. After losing the last game of the 2001 season with the Oakland A's, Beane starts to rethink his team, and meets young Yale graduate Peter Brand, played by Jonah Hill, who helps him make choices regarding players based on their ability to get on base and get runs, which will eventually lead to wins. This system is a "reinvention" of professional baseball trading and therefore upsets the status quo. At first it doesn't work, but as history has already proven, it eventually does. Moneyball is the story of Billy Beane and the struggles he had to go through, personally and professionally, to change baseball forever.
The film is a bit slow at the start, and it doesn't really become great until the second half. Like a real baseball game, the first few innings can be rather boring, then out of nowhere things get ramped up when someone hits a home run. A few of the earlier scenes when everything was coming together felt a bit stale, especially Jonah Hill's dialogue with Pitt, but right when their off-the-wall player choices finally start working out and the A's begin a winning streak, that's when Moneyball gets even better. It starts rough but builds over time and ends on a wonderful note, showing just how much of an impact Beane had on the game, yet still keeping the story intensely focused on his character and his journey.
As is expected for a film about baseball, by the time it was over, all I could think is how much I love baseball. Or at least how it's presented in this film. Moneyball gives us an inside look at the trading process, and also at how even coaches (including Art Howe, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) don't have a say over who is on the team, but can control who they put on the field during a game, which is a unique dynamic. But it's still the general manager who makes all the calls and trades players. It's a behind-the-scenes look that is immensely captivating to watch in the context of this story, but isn't just about the game itself.
I was also glad to find that some of the Steven Soderbergh remnants remained intact, including the documentary-style footage. During various moments of the film discussing baseball and important elements of the game, Miller uses voiceover and archival footage to bring a more well-rounded sense of the sport and its history to the film. While we're watching fictional scenes in a movie, he uses this edge to make it seem like a film that is real, and is still about baseball as we know it, whether on the big screen or small screen. However, there are other moments where random numbers and stats are flashed by with little explanation or concern. These were some of the cheesiest moments in the movie and definitely could've been improved.
Overall, while I must admit that Moneyball won't necessarily be my favorite film of the year, it's definitely up there. Pitt delivers a solid performance, Jonah Hill does a serviceable job and steps up occasionally but not often enough. Unfortunately it's obvious that directing this caliber of actors isn't Bennett Miller's strength yet. Even Philip Seymour Hoffman, who should've been a highlight, was just mediocre as well. There was something off about the performances, but at least the story and the presentation made up for it in the end. Moneyball isn't a home run, but at least a double, and if the player is really good, a triple.
Alex's Toronto Rating: 7.5 out of 10