It’s always hard reviewing a film that’s main plot is centered on a sport that I do not care for. Moneyball is a baseball drama that is based on a true story. It translates well to film and manages to gain interest due to the star Brad Pitt and the rest of the cast, but it never reaches greatness. It’s a good film with an interesting story that gives the viewer tons of knowledge of the sport, but it loses steam in the bottom of the ninth. It feels like wasted potential. That being said it also could have been much worse. Instead of becoming one of the better films of the fall it settles with being a good one to watch, but not much more.
Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) is a former baseball player turned general manager of the Oakland A’s. He was once thought to be the next big player in baseball, but instead he was a fluke. He switched from player to GM and went on to change the way scouts and people viewed and analyzed the sport of baseball. The A’s are a team that’s in need of a drastic change. They’re a poor team and can’t afford to simply buy better players so Billy decides to take a gamble on some young kid from Yale, Peter Brand (Jonah Hill). Brand uses computer generated statistics to determine which players Billy should buy to make for the perfect team. These players aren’t chosen based on personal problems, age, weight, style, but strictly on what the numbers read based on how they play. Of course this leads to an uprising from everyone in upper management and Billy immediately becomes the joke of baseball. Everyone thinks he’s lost his marbles and no one gives two shits about Peter Brand.
The theory works, the A’s start winning and Billy regains some confidence that was lost in his younger years. The film follows the ups and downs of Billy, his past, present and future. Not being a baseball follower made Moneyball a treat in terms of predictability and story. It rarely went where I thought it would and the outcomes of a lot of games definitely threw a curve ball at me. The A’s uprising wasn’t just an overnight success, it took lots of failure to reach the success and I think that was perceived very well in the film.
But Moneyball still manages to just kind of linger on being good. When I watch sports films I try and see if the film can answer two questions. The first being, does the film provide enough detail and back story on the sport it involves so that any viewer can come in and not get lost? Moneyball does provide a lot of detail on Billy Beane, the team’s he was associated with and the current state of baseball, which helped make for an easy to digest film. The second question I always ask is does the film make the sport interesting and engaging for non-fans? Often times you will have a film play it so close to the actual sport that a non-fan will get lost or lose interest and Moneyball makes the sport of baseball look exciting and exhilarating.
So what’s the problem? The problem with Moneyball is the general structure of the film. The film starts with a back story of Beane and then it jumps into Beane and Brand meeting and building a team and from that point it starts to lose focus. We see the A’s win and lose a few games and then it abruptly rushes to the last few games and ends. There isn’t enough time spent on taking it all in, instead it sort of rushes along trying to wrap it up. The film started slow and built some promise and then it gets lost in the shuffle.
Brad Pitt does what he does best, delivering another great performance, but something about him felt lost. It’s not to the point of phoning it in, but I’d say that he didn’t seem that engaged or challenged by the content. It was just another good role to get him a steady paycheck and keep him in the spotlight.
Jonah Hill shows some more of his acting chops as Peter Brand, the economic smartster from Yale. Hill manages to break away from his usual silly self and add a more serious tone as Brand. But the same thing with Pitt manages to affect Hill. His character is smart, funny and insecure, but never someone you really care about. I know it must be hard to walk in the shadow of Pitt in a film like this but man did Hill barely get any sort of screen time. The film focuses on Pitt and Pitt alone until it gets a little depressing, in which Hill is called into the room for a brief moment and then rushed out. The relationship between Brand and Beane didn’t feel that authentic at all.
The biggest wasted talent in the film was Philip Seymour Hoffman, who played the coach of the A’s. Hoffman is such a star and he always has great screen presence whenever he’s on the camera, which is sadly all of 10 minutes in Moneyball. I don’t see why they bothered casting such a great actor if they weren’t going to utilize his abilities. Anyone could have played the coach and done as good as Hoffman did. Why did they feel the need to tease us with Hoffman?
The visuals in Moneyball do stick out in a good way. The numerous shots of the empty stadium and empty hallways are beautiful and sometimes haunting. But slick camerawork can only go so far when the story goes off the rails.
Moneyball is a good film, but it should be much better considering the talent involved. It’s a light drama that never really goes anywhere. Pitt, Hill and Hoffman all provide good stuff as usual, but they never really feel interested in their characters. Moneyball essentially feels like something that sounded good on paper, but was never elevated to anything greater. The film could have benefited from a tighter ending and possibly shaving off 15 to 20 minutes.
Moneyball doesn’t completely strike out nor does it hit a home run, instead it walks to first, steals second and gets caught at third. It’s a serviceable film on a technical level, but it’s not nearly as engaging as it should be.
Moneyball – 7.5/10