wogma rating: Beg or borrow, but do watch (?)
While Brad Pitt is definitely the most appealing thing about Moneyball, it is watchable for many more reasons, primarily the writing by stalwarts Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, and the unhurried, loving manner in which director Bennett Miller has treated the film. A sports film that focuses more on what goes on behind the scenes, Moneyball, based on a true life story, talks about how, in sport, there is so much more than what meets the eye. It is engaging, layered and emotional.Read more
There are sports films and there are sports films. And there is Moneyball. There are sports films that show you the sport. They make you feel the adrenaline, they make you want to get up and cheer. And at the climax, when who you are rooting for wins, they give you that shiver up your spine, because victory is an emotion like no other. And then… there is Moneyball.
Nearly seven years after his first feature, the beautifully acted Capote, Bennett Miller returns, this time teaming up with star screenwriters Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, to deliver a sports film, a baseball film to be precise, that is more about the underlying passion for the game than the adrenaline that goes with playing or consuming it. At the same time, it is also more about using logic to get things right in sport, instead of relying on ‘perceptions’ of skill and talent.
Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), a former prodigal but failed baseball player himself, is now General Manager of the Oakland Athletics – a team that has been on the fringes, primarily because of their incredibly low budget compared to giants like the Boston Red Sox or the New York Mets. As a result, they are also faced with the problem of attrition – their star players invariably go along with fat pay packets to play for the big guns.
A chance meeting with a Yale Economics graduate Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) convinces Beane that there is a way to put together a winning team even on a low budget. Chak De! India meets Jerry Maguire meets The Social Network, who then meet Zaillian and Sorkin, both masters of the screenplay. Moneyball takes you off the field and into the rooms where the decisions are taken. It is layered and purposeful, because that is how mental games are.
Though quite long, Moneyball is still exceptionally written, with full credit to Miller for not hurrying with proceedings. Brad Pitt’s character is still haunted by the ghosts of the days gone by and those long, silent scenes of him contemplating his past, present and future, his love for the game, his belief in his tactics may bore some, but if you pause the way his character has, you might just see why they are necessary.
Along with the obvious developments in the team-building aspects of the film, a number of other, at times more pertinent issues are touched upon. How difficult is it to let a player ‘go’? How difficult is it to be the man at the helm, the man at whom the buck stops? What do you do when you have so much at stake, but you also have in you a sense of being a jinx? And what do you really have at stake when you are a middle-aged divorcee with a daughter who hero-worships you? How much can you really put on the line? Moneyball is immersive because it is a film that transcends the obvious traps that a film on sport can fall prey to.
Brad Pitt combines his natural, cocky movie-stardom with intensity, purpose and a firm sense of being, to deliver a standout (and incidentally, Academy Award-nominated) performance. Jonah Hill, better known from earlier comic roles, is cast in a dramatic role for the first time, and he does it justice – he has also been nominated for an Academy Award. He is genuinely adorable, and he holds his own in front of Pitt, a feat in itself.
Moneyball is a film that Hollywood normally finds hard to make. “A sports film without slow motion? VFX heavy on-field action shots? Bah!” In spite of that, it is a film that would only be completely comprehendible with at least some knowledge of baseball. There is no attempt to ‘explain’ baseball to those who have no knowledge of it, and baseball jargon is part of the day-to-day language for the characters in the film. It is also the kind of film that will grow better with subsequent viewings, because the viewer can gently unpeel the layers in the writing and the performances. For the first viewing though, some prior reading on baseball will help immensely.
This review is by guest reviewer Pradeep Menon. Pradeep is a filmmaker and a dreamer. He loves books, rain, winters, tea and his parents. Cinema, however, is the only truth he believes in. He breathes and bleeds film, mostly in hues of saffron, white, green and blue. You can watch his short films at www.youtube.com/cyberpradeep.
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