2011, aaron sorkin, bennett miller, biopic, Brad Pitt, capote, Jonah Hill, Moneyball, philip seymour hoffman, schindler's list, sports, statistics, steve zaillian, the gangs of new york, the social network
Written by: Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zaillian based on the book by Michael Lewis
Directed by: Bennet Miller
Starring: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman
I had a review written for Bennet Miller’s Moneyball but I found it was dragged out in an effort to say what I feel is too obvious. The screenplay is written by Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, The Social Network) and Steve Zaillian (The Gangs of New York, Schindler’s List) who are two of the most celebrated American screenwriters of the last 20 years and so their solid (but not ground-breaking) work here is no surprise. The film stars Brad Pitt as Oakland Athletics GM and MLB pot-stirrer Billy Beane and Philip Seymour Hoffman as the fuddy-duddy old-school Oakland A’s manager. These are both universally beloved actors who are known for bringing subtlety and life to every character they play, so again it is no surprise that they both steal the show in Moneyball. A performance here by Jonah Hill as Peter Brand, the Yale-educated economics student who helps Beane with his sabermetric approach to player recruitment, is refreshing as Hill steps away from his usual comedic persona and plays this character straight, to good effect. Direction from Bennett Miller (Capote) is minimal but well-paced, leaving the floor open for the strong cast to do all the heavy lifting.
What I would like to point out is the way I found myself face-to-face with some major issues at work in professional sports. Moneyball is primarily concerned with the way that the business of scouting and recruiting MLB players is based on star-power; physical attractiveness, ability to interact with the media, fill seats and sell merchandise. Millions of dollars are spent every year on player salaries and signing bonuses, only to end up with entitled athletes who are more concerned with celebrity than with their game. What Beane and Brand attempt to do is to employ a system based on the work of Bill James in which players are chosen based on statistics and measurable ability. Beane ends up being able to hire extremely talented athletes at minimal cost because they were looked over due to arbitrary reasons such as age or minor injury. GMs are trading players as if they were baseball cards, dangling the carrot of multi-million dollar salaries to steal players from other teams and Beane’s method points out the folly in spending all that money to do what he nearly does for less than a quarter of the cost.
I don’t mean to belittle Moneyball by marginalizing the talents of all the people involved, it’s just that the film is exactly what it is. To say that a Brad Pitt performance is very good or that an Aaron Sorkin screenplay is engaging is not going to surprise anyone or bring anything new to the table. There are no revelations here but make no mistake: Moneyball is a fascinating exploration of the world of professional sports, as it gives its audience a chance to consider the value-for-money ratio at play in one of the world’s richest industries. It’s a film far more compelling than it should be, but such is the nature of a Sorkin script. I was impressed to find myself hanging on every word, desperate to find out what would happen next in this film about statistics.