Review: Moneyball (2011)

Directed by: Bennett Miller
Starring: Brad Pitt, Robin Wright, Jonah Hill

It takes a lot of earnest effort to pump a generous amount of appeal into a traditional sports-related film. If the subject alone wasn’t polarizing enough, there’s not much to like about a production that focuses more on mildly inspirational, underdog-oriented fairy tales than something less familiar. Needless to say, many were pleasantly surprised with more recent entries in this oft-explored niche (e.g. 2010’s The Fighter) as they managed to sidestep glaring pratfalls by incorporating a compelling air of humanity. Bennett Miller’s Moneyball admirably follows in these predecessors’ footsteps, dramatizing a (presumably) straightforward, fact-based baseball flick that consistently entertains thanks to a functional blend of human emotion, often engaging sports talk and an endearing central character.

For those of you not entirely familiar with baseball lore, the film’s title refers to Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane’s implementation of Sabermetrics in an attempt to overcome the club’s substandard salary cap. Controversial as it was, Beane’s unorthodox approach to strengthening the franchise quickly caught on as the team overcame adversity to have one of the best winning records of the season, thus establishing himself as somewhat of legend. Given how mathematically driven Beane’s methods were as a whole, one may assume that those who don’t sport an obvious fondness for either baseball or numbers will immediately feel alienated, and while those deemed fanatics of the sport will undeniably find a lot to like about the more noticeable aspects of the film, the opposite is true.

Involving as I found literally every bout of baseball jargon to be, there exists an inherent likability within Moneyball‘s focus on Beane’s life off the field. Imbalanced as the film is in chronicling both sides of the narrative, professional and personal, it offers us a valuable glimpse behind the scenes at the sport’s admittedly less interesting aspects while allowing us to view the quietly conflicted character in a different, more heartfelt light. A substantial portion of the film’s more emotionally driven, humanistic tendencies stems from Beane’s interactions with individuals both dear to him and far from it, the most appealing of which are the rare occasions spent with his daughter as her involvement in his life drives him to succeed in spite of his obvious desire to beat the odds and assemble an above average ball club.

All things considered, Moneyball benefits the most from Brad Pitt’s unparalleled central performance as the charismatic and fiercely determined Billy Beane, portraying the individual with a surprising amount of vigor and interacting wonderfully with his soft-spoken foil/sidekick Peter Brand, aptly played by Jonah Hill. Chemistry aside, wonderful performances abound from an above average supporting cast and director Bennett Miller’s ability to make us care for all involved is a definite plus, especially when paired with the questionable appeal of the business-oriented side of things. Simply put, Pitt is a definite shoe-in for awards contention, and the strength of his efforts alone truly help the film overcome the little it fails to do correctly.

Truth be told, Moneyball can safely be considered one of the best sports films I’ve ever seen. Bold and even hyperbolic as this sounds, the film rarely ceases to impress thanks to Miller’s appealing sense of style, an outstanding cast and an engaging, mildly inconsistent script that balances interesting bouts of baseball lore with a wonderfully humanistic, heartfelt approach to an otherwise straightforward sports-based biopic. As one of the more entertaining efforts to come about following a notoriously disappointing summer season, Moneyball follows closely behind my beloved Drive as a welcome departure from convention in establishing itself as something truly worth your time, whether you’re a fan of the sport or not.

Rating: 8/10


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