Monday, September 26, 2011

Film Review | Moneyball

A League of His Own

By Thomas Delapa

Brad Pitt is easy to like.

He might be the most likable big-league male star around, George Clooney, Matt Damon and Tom Hanks notwithstanding. If you throw in his liberal-minded leanings on top of looks and easygoing charm, Pitt is batting close to a thousand.

But likability, like good intentions, can be a road to perdition—just ask Barack Obama. For my money, Moneyball should have been called Brad Pitt Ball (or The Money Pitt). Gee coach, didn’t anyone tell him that there’s no “I” in team?

In this wobbly inside pitch at baseball, Pitt plays Billy Beane, architect of the Oakland Athletics’ winning ways beginning in the early 2000s. As a young general manager determined to shake up the old game, Beane took the A’s from the cellar to the penthouse in 2002, mostly with a bunch of bargain-basement players.

Not unlike Tom Cruise in his tailor-made Mission Impossible franchise, Pitt is close to a one-man team while the ballplayers themselves are as anonymous as the actors playing them. Pitt only shares the spotlight with Jonah Hill, cast as a boyish baseball wonk who convinces Beane that obscure statistical analysis (now called “sabermetrics”) can help turn the A’s from zeroes to heroes.

From a 2003 book by Michael Lewis, director Bennett Miller (Capote) fields a film that curiously stays outside the foul lines, focusing largely on Beane’s unorthodox moves that threw a curve at baseball’s most hidebound traditions for evaluating talent. Beane not only has to win out against conventional wisdom, but has to spar with his old-school manager (a sour Philip Seymour Hoffman), who thinks Beane’s ideas are totally off-base.

While hardcore fans will likely enjoy this scruffy, locker-room look at the game, most audiences may want to reach for an overpriced beer. Director Miller’s costliest error might be that he tosses in a minimum of on-field drama, and only as fuzzy TV replays. You can look it up: Compared to The Natural or even A League of Their Own, Moneyball has all the action of a seventh-inning stretch.



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