A beautiful movie with a beautiful wit.
Aaron Sorkin knocks it out of the park again with his solid adaptation of the Michael Lewis bestseller. His trademark sharp wit is recognizably present in the film, if in a different form than the traditional Sorkin snappy pace. Director Bennett Miller makes a conscious choice to slow things down, and it works–to a degree–very well in terms of the emotional moments in the film.
The film opens with dead silence, a direct contrast to the talkative opening to Sorkin’s 2010 opus The Social Network; Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) is, though stopping every few seconds as if the result were to change, replaying his Athletics’ 2001 ALDS loss to the Yankees through his radio (we see it on grainy TV footage). The film then establishes that Damon, Giambi, and Isringhausen, the three major stars of his playoff team, are leaving for greener pastures (or greener bank accounts). Beane talks to his old-world scouts about fixing the problem, and they offer no help. Going to Cleveland to make a deal with Mark Shapiro, Indians GM, he meets Peter Brand (Paul DePodesta in real life) (Jonah Hill), who coaxes Shapiro out of making a bad deal. After a scene of immense awkwardness, played at its finest by Hill and Pitt, Beane hires Brand and the two begin a revolution in Oakland, alienating Grady Fuson, the head scout who Billy eventually fires, and manager Art Howe, well underplayed in a thankless role by Philip Seymour Hoffman.
The film portrays Howe and Fuson as the main obstacles, streamlining the book’s tendency to avoid a ‘villain’, which works cinematically, as it gives Beane and Brand a way to demonstrate their considerable skill and savvy in the process of defeating Howe. Another major change from the book is the further inclusion of Beane’s family life, to give him more of an emotional arc; Kerris Dorsey is winning as his 12-year-old daughter Casey, who shows up in only three scenes, but manages to establish herself as the meaning of Billy’s life (a great feat of writing). She also sings the cutest song since Juno; it will be stuck in all of your heads for the next several days after you see the film. Spike Jonze and Robin Wright give solid performances as Casey’s stepdad and mom, respectively, and Jonze’s scene is particularly memorable.
Speaking of changes from the book, there is an omission of the draft sequence; it’s one of my favorite parts of the book, but it serves the film emotionally through its removal. However, the famous epilogue with Jeremy Brown’s triple-turned-embarassment-turned-home-run remains, and the footage in the film is absolutely priceless.
The film is credited to three writers: Stan Chervin, Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List), and Sorkin. Chervin is credited with the story, so very little (if any) of his dialogue made it into the final film. I read the Zaillian draft, and I was disappointed by it; there were some scenes that Sorkin kept, but those were the best scenes (outside of a small scene in which Billy ventures to a model home that the A’s owner, Steve Schott, also owns). For the most part, Sorkin rewrote the film and added the funny, an element sorely missing from the Zaillian draft.
Technically, the film is beautiful. Wally Pfister, cinematographer for Inception and The Dark Knight, creates a stunning visual palette. The baseball sequences are absolutely gorgeous, and off the field, Pfister maintains (or doesn’t maintain, if the emotionality of the scene calls for it) excellent focus on Billy Beane. Every shot in the film is detailed, beautiful, and absolutely stunning. I’d say this is a contender for Best Cinematography at the Oscars a few months down the line.
The acting is pitch-perfect. In addition to the fine performances mentioned earlier, Brad Pitt lends a great deal of emotional depth to the suave Billy Beane, and Jonah Hill steals the show as the supremely awkward Peter Brand (he’s easily the best part of the film). Chris Pratt (Parks & Recreation) makes a good impression in a few deadpan scenes as catcher-turned-pickin’-machine Scott Hatteberg, and Stephen Bishop does a great job of playing the veteran David Justice. Philip Seymour Hoffman lends gravitas to Art Howe. My favorite piece of casting in the film, however, is the actor picked to play A’s superstar shortstop Miguel Tejada–it’s former MLB shortstop Royce Clayton.
The score is interestingly inspirational. Mychael Danna (Little Miss Sunshine) has crafted a unique and modern musical atmosphere, and if he’s responsible for composing Kerris Dorsey’s song, then he’s got some serious royalties headed his way. While not a complete triumph, the score was eminently listenable, and fit with the film for the most part.
Here’s what divides me. Bennett Miller (Capote) is an accomplished and smart director. He made a very good movie in Moneyball. However, the pacing to me felt uneven and a bit slow, especially for a Sorkin-drafted film. Maybe my expectations were too high, considering The Social Network‘s too-fast-ness (The Social Network is my favorite film, by the way). Despite this, the way Miller paced the film works surprisingly well with Pitt’s subtleties and Hill’s awkward humor. I must say, since the film as a whole worked, I’ll give Miller the benefit of the doubt here.
There was one thing I absolutely didn’t like: title card inconsistencies. It’s nitpicky. I know. But I’d like to have a degree of conformity in the title cards so that I feel like I’m watching a cohesive film. While the film did flow together nicely, the title card inconsistencies dragged me out of the world for just a moment, and I feel like that hampered the otherwise very good film.
Before I go, I must say this: the ending of the film is perfect. Everyone involved deserves medals for resolving the unconventional story in a way that packs significant emotional punch.
Overall, a very good film that’s definitely worth your eight bucks. Moneyball is Moneyballin’.
Here are some thoughts from other USC film students who I saw the film with. I should note that the general consensus when leaving was that the film was indeed ‘very good’.
Sorkin. The Greek God of Dialogue. — Andy Gause
I liked it. I was also bored by it. — Torrie Zaccor
We have just seen a best picture nominee. — Dani Goffstein
Thanks for reading.