Moneyball, Toronto Film Festival
Thursday 15 September 2011
So it's taken Hollywood's best minds to come up with a way of finding a sports manager as good looking as José Mourinho: employ Brad Pitt. Yet even Pitt doesn't quite have the charisma of the Real Madrid manager in yet another movie that proves you can't create the tension of sports on the silver screen.
The recounting of how Oakland Athletic changed the face of American baseball in 2002 when manager Billy Beane (Pitt) decided to employ Yale graduate Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) and use statistics rather than the hunches of scouts to employ baseball stars is undone in its finale when it becomes a schmaltzy paean to America's poor cousin to cricket.
Given that Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin are two of the best screenwriters in Hollywood today, it's no surprise that there is some great dialogue. In a scouts' meeting, where players are judged on criteria such as age and merchandising potential rather than hard numbers, one scout spouts the following sentiment about a potential recruit: "an ugly girlfriend means he has no confidence."
The best sports movies are those that are not about the on-field action. It's a rule that Moneyball winningly adheres to in a bright opening. Beane, frustrated at yet another season when his team loses to the New York Yankees in a play-off game, desperately wants to come up with a strategy to even up the odds. He lucks upon a secret when he meets Brand while trying to orchestrate a trade.
Jonah Hill, often the fat funny guy in Judd Apatow comedies, excels in a more serious role. He's the novice who needs the rules of trading explained to him – this means that the audience, too, can keep apace of proceedings and the brutality of player trading.
Although about baseball, fans of many football clubs in the Premier League will sympathise with the lament of baseball fans that the ultimate prizes are nearly always won by the richest teams. This is a movie, like so many sports films from The Mighty Ducks to Cool Runnings, that gives hope to the little guy.
Pitt gives one of his best and most understated performances as the team's general manager. By contrast, a shaven-haired Philip Seymour Hoffman is criminally underused in the part of team selector Art Howe. At the start he is against the changes being implemented, but his reaction when the team goes on a winning streak is surprisingly not recorded.
Disappointingly, Moneyball makes the mistake of trying to create the tension of live sport as it recounts how Oakland scraped to their 20th victory. Director Bennett Miller uses all the clichés and the sporting action predictably becomes a metaphor for life and, like many movies about baseball, falls into the cul-de-sac of there being "no i" in team.
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