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Monday, September 26, 2011

Moneyball (Release Date: 9-23-2011)

        I walked into Moneyball expecting The Social Network-lite. My advice to you: Don't do that. Moneyball does represent only the second feature film outing of TSN scribe Aaron Sorkin, yet again clearing out scenes of excessive action in favor of lengthy stretches of spell-binding dialogue. Again, there is terrific character development, a product of stellar writing and impressive acting. Yes, the Two films share much of the same DNA, but The Social Network just so happens to be One of the best movies to grace the silver screen in many moons, and simply expecting Moneyball to replicate such success was a foolish wanting on my part. Comparing the Two does Moneyball no favors, so if you promise not to do it, then I too will knock it off in Five... Four... Three... Two... One...

        Moneyball is based on the real-life story of rogue Baseball General Manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), and the revelatory means that he employed to steer the team into the playoffs in the early 2000's. After losing in the American League Championship Series to the New York Yankees, the Oakland Athletics, unable to compete with bigger markets payroll-wise, lose Three of their very best players (Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon, and Jason Isringhausen) to free agency. Realizing that, without the deep pockets of other organizations, losing players in this fashion is likely to continue, Beane sets out to develop a new method for evaluating talent. He meets Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a 20-something Harvard grad who claims that an entirely new system for assessing value, One based almost entirely on lesser-known statistics, would allow his team to build a contender even on a smaller budget. The Two set out to mold a winner, ruffling the feathers of everyone from club manager Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to an endless parade of columnists and commentators.

        As its ad campaign has made perfectly clear, Moneyball is all about Brad Pitt, spending nearly every-waking moment with his Billy Beane, and shaping him as the true hero in a story that clearly has several. It's not hard to see why: Pitt is magnetic in the role despite being relatively un-showy, his candid speech and ever-ginning swagger masking nearly tangible feelings of disappointment and media fear. Pitt has given us great many wonderfully over-the-top performances, but Moneyball represents the high water mark in his career as a player of the everyman. Hill also shines, trading in his normative rage for an equally tickling quiet, surprisingly believable as a timid brainiac.

        The elements of Moneyball's craft are all in order as well: Director Bennett Miller (Capote) handles the proceedings with a subtle grace, and Wally Pfister, fresh off his Oscar win for Inception, films the whole thing in handsome, rustic tones. No, there's not much that's exactly wrong with Moneyball, but the movie cannot help but feel like an extra-valient attempt to translate a story that doesn't really work on screen. Unlike the best dialogue-heavy flicks, the endless conversations that make up the vast, vast majority of Moneyball's runtime blur into One another, each taking place in relatively similar locations and consisting of nearly identical topics.

        Where That Other Movie paced Sorkin's writings at a dizzying, elating speed, Miller sets the mind-bogling verbiage to a glacial clip, the movie's Two-plus hour runtime evident even during enjoyable stretches. Simply put, it's a movie about One of the world's most slow-moving sports, stuffed to the brim with conversation, mostly about statistics, wherein even Pitt's character jokes that not all that much is at stake. There are a lot of things to like about Moneyball, a handful in fact, but none of them can mask the fact that this is not a very titillating story to see represented visually. Kudos to all involved; This is likely right around the best film that you could wring out of this story, but those championing it as a potential Best Picture candidate are, to my mind, getting a bit ahead of themselves.

Grade: B

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