WBRi Movie Review: Moneyball (2012) - Brad Pitt Does Not Disappoint

Moneyball (2012) Hollywood English Movie: PosterCalcutta, India, Feb 25, 2012 (Washington Bangla Radio / Penning Creations) Few things can get the adrenalin of ardent movie buffs rushing more effectively than a well-made sports film. Films like ‘The Babe’, ‘Ali’ and ‘The Cinderella Man’, dealing with different types of professional sports, managed to garner considerable critical acclaim over the past couple of decades. In particular, movies that showcase the triumph of the quintessential underdog, often find great favour among cinegoers (think ‘James J. Braddock’ in ‘The Cinderella Man’!).

Director Bennett Miller, who had earlier made the largely successful ‘Capote’, now returns to the helm with the Brad Pitt-starrer ‘Moneyball’, a film that deals with American baseball. With the movie already boasting of as many as six Academy Award nominations, all sports-loving moviegoers were looking forward with eager anticipation for the release of the film. So, does ‘Moneyball’ manage to measure up to the huge expectations that the viewers have from the movie? Well, it does more than that, for ‘Moneyball’ is as smart a sports-related flick as they come!

The movie opens with a post-season baseball match between Oakland Athletics and the New York Yankees. The exciting game ends with a loss for the former team, which leaves the general manager of the squad, ‘Billy Beane’ (Brad Pitt) thoroughly devastated. Not a man to back down, however, ‘Billy’ decides to start forming a stronger team for the next season, which would have a realistic chance of winning the baseball league. His plans are, however, thwarted when it is revealed that three of the top players of Oakland Athletics, ‘Jason Giambi’, ‘Johnny Damon’ and ‘Jason Isringhausen’ have decided to leave the team. Without getting adequate substitutes for these star players (an almost impossible task in itself!), the chances of the team to be even competitive in the league appear to be extremely slim. In the midst of the gloomy and melancholic atmosphere that seems to shroud everyone else involved with the Oakland Athletics, the indomitable ‘Billy’ starts to scout for players who would be able to fill the void left by the outgoing star performers.

Trailer: Moneyball (English, 2012) Hollywood Film

On one such player-scouting trip (at the office of the Cleveland Indians team), ‘Billy’ comes across the enterprising (yet often ignored!) ‘Peter Brand’ (Jonah Hill), a man who has his own (rather interesting!) methods to judge the value of any baseball player. Impressed by ‘Peter’s considerable tactical acumen, ‘Billy’ hires his services at Oakland Athletics as his principal advisor, who would help him select just the right players for the team. The sabermetric method of judging the value of baseball players (which involves complex calculations to arrive at the ‘base percentage’ of each player!) is initially scoffed at by the other big shots at the Oakland Athletics office. However, ‘Billy’, who has complete faith in ‘Peter’s abilities to read the game, decides to hire the players that the latter recommends. He even goes the length of selling off one of their (very few!) remaining star players, in order to accommodate the new and relatively unknown (and, unorthodox!) recruits, much to the displeasure of the coach of the team, ‘Art Howe’ (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

‘Billy’s decision to blindly trust the recommendations of ‘Peter’ seems to, however, backfire on him as the new season gets underway and the Oakland Athletics team loses several games on the bounce. Just when expert baseball analyzers (and ‘Billy’s personal critics!) start to write off his theories as a huge flop, the team goes on a record-shattering 20-game winning run, showcasing the merits of ‘Billy’s team-selection methods. In a nerve-wracking post-season finale, Oakland Athletics, however, lose to Minnesota Twins and do not quite manage to win the league. The tactical brilliance of ‘Billy’ is not lost on the owners of other big teams of the league, who try to lure ‘Billy’ away from the Athletics. ‘Billy’, however, spurns such offers and stays at his old team, dreaming to help it reach greater heights in the forthcoming seasons.

‘Moneyball’ is one of the very few sports films that are actually able to capture the true spirit and essence of this genre of movies. The characterizations are realistic (with some of them being inspired from real-life sports personalities), the narrative is tight and gripping and the actual match sequences are extremely authentic and quite brilliantly shot. One simply has to hand it to cinematographer Wally Pfister for bringing each frame of ‘Moneyball’ to life onscreen. Director Bennett Miller comes across as a moviemaker who knows how to get the best out of his actors and he also ensures that all the characters in the film are provided with adequate back-stories, so that all of them appear to be uniformly believable to viewers.

No sports film can be successful without strong performances from the members of its cast and ‘Moneyball’ scores heavily on that count. Brad Pitt, as the determined (and at times, rather gruff!) general manager, ‘Billy Beane’, delivers one of the finest performances of his already-celebrated movie career in ‘Moneyball.’ The actor completely sheds his ‘handsome matinee idol’ avatar in the film and portrays the ambitions, will to win, determinations and the inner bitterness of his character (‘Billy’ was once considered to be a child prodigy in the baseball circles, but never quite managed to live up to his promises on the big stage) in a truly praiseworthy manner. Pitt’s lazy elegance and fantastic emoting skills once again reaffirm the belief that he is easily one of the finest actors of our times. Brad Pitt has already been nominated for the Best Actor prize at various prestigious movie award ceremonies (including the Oscars!) for his role in ‘Moneyball’ and it would hardly come as a surprise if the actor actually manages to win most of these accolades!

‘Moneyball’ features top-notch performances from the rest of the cast as well. Jonah Hill, as the nerdy tactical genius ‘Peter Brand’ is a complete revelation in the film. The manner in which Hill showcases the transition of his character from a cowered-down junior sports official to a confident man, who is given full freedom to display his talents by ‘Billy’, is indeed worth a round of applause. Philip Seymour Hoffman, as ‘Art Howe’ is competent as the coach of the team who has little faith in ‘Billy’s unconventional beliefs and is not afraid to confront the latter when the plans of the two clash. Chris Pratt, as the underrated player ‘Scott Hatteberg’, also pitches in with a sincere performance. The others are also well-cast and do adequate justice to their roles in the film.

Sleek editing and smart, spontaneous dialogs are the other high points (of which there are many!) in the film. Indeed, Christopher Tellefsen, the editor, ensures that ‘Moneyball’ (which has a relatively long running time of 133 minutes) keeps the viewers hooked to their seats at all times. The sound character developments (kudos to the director there!) automatically make sure that the audience keeps on rooting for ‘Billy Beane’ (and his team, Oakland Athletics!) all through the film. Background music, by Mychael Danna, is well-composed and suits well to the proceedings in the movie. The closing scene, where it is shown that ‘Billy’s theories have finally received universal appreciation (and has been successfully aped by other teams!), is also worth a special mention.

‘Moneyball’ is a film that never goes overboard in its attempt to tug at the heartstrings of the viewers with the initial plight (and the ultimate victory!) of its main protagonist. Instead, the movie presents just the right mix of practical sports decision-making and emotional sensitivity. With outstanding performances from the entire cast (Brad Pitt above all the others!), a smart and stylish narrative, efficient editing, natural dialogs and quite fantastic game-sequences, ‘Moneyball’ easily stands out as one of the top sports flicks to have come out of the Hollywood industry.

Sports-loving movie fans would surely find this film much to their liking. Indeed, ‘Moneyball’ looks set to make a lot of money at the box-office!

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