Directed by Bennett Miller. Starring Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright, Chris Pratt, Stephen Bishop PG cert, gen release, 133 min
GOOD LUCK flogging this nicely made, somewhat overlong film to the good people of Europe. Advance word suggests that Moneyballis “not really about baseball”. Well, maybe. But it’s not not about baseball in the way that, say, Field of Dreamswas not about baseball. (Apologies for the horrible syntax and a second mention in these pages of that Kevin Costner film.) If you don’t know a bunt from a flyball, then you might be fighting for air before the first 30 minutes are up.
Directed by Bennett Miller, best known for Capote, the film adapts Michael Lewis’s much acclaimed book about the renaissance of the Oakland Athletics in the early 2000s. Aaron Sorkin, writer of The West Wingand The Social Network, has done a respectable job of boiling statistics into a lucid, if not exactly economic, drama of determination and integrity. It’s often interesting. It’s always layered with class. But it never quite locates an emotional core.
Brad Pitt, competently heroic as ever, plays a once-promising ball player who, as middle-age bites, finds himself managing one of the American League’s more impoverished teams. His approach is scientific. Dismissing all that guff about spirit and heart, he uses computer models to design an approach that will exploit his limited resources to the best effect. With Jonah Hill’s nerdy boffin by his side, he soon runs up against a wall of suspicion and mistrust.
The film offers a fascinating inversion of the traditional sports movie. For once the hard-heated managerial sorts (with their briefcases and laptops) are the heroes and the Gary Cooper types – all chewing tobacco and hoary tradition – find themselves cast as antagonists. One rather wonderful scene sees Pitt snorting while the old guard sentimentally discuss the grace and elegance of potential new recruits. Forget that baloney. What are their “at base” figures?
Sadly, this intriguing twist is not enough (for baseball agnostics at least) to sustain a very lengthy, very talky movie. The game begins to flag somewhere in the fifth inning and never entirely regains its energy.