|Photo by Melinda Sue Gordon Copyright 2011 Columbia Tristar
Don’t know much about baseball except Bull Durham (Ron Shelton 1988) is Kevin Costner’s finest hour, and the game’s romanticism, love of nostalgia and its working class history fulfil the same function in the American psyche as football does in Britain. Nowadays both sports are all about the money. The team with the most cash usually wins. The game is rigged to favour those who can afford it. Everybody else is making up the numbers. Moneyball is the first great movie about modern sport, unsentimental in its approach, often deconstructing the old-fashioned myths about baseball, yet still despite itself being in love with the game.
In 2002 Oakland Athletics manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) found a way to challenge the system by using statistics to find players who were highly effective but overlooked by the bigger teams. In the movie Beane teams up with Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a young economics graduate from Yale, the duo built an unfancied team of challengers to the super-rich New York Yankees. Brand is a composite character based on a number of people in the book ‘Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game’ by Michael Lewis. We see Beane having meetings with his team of scouts who blab on about physicality and even on one occasion why players with ugly girlfriends don’t have the confidence to play major league baseball.
As with The Social Network (David Fincher 2010) Aaron Sorkin, here co-writing with Steven Zaillan, is more interested in showing how the differing factions involved in this story interact with each other. Beane’s new ideas naturally enough encounter resistance most notably from his team coach, played by an unrecognisable Philip Seymour Hoffman, who initially refuses to follow his manager’s lead. The on field action is almost a sideshow to the behind the scenes activity.
We only ever see excerpts on TV, or hear radio commentary. Beane doesn’t even watch the games himself, leaving just before the action starts. Half the time he is shown driving around in his car. Pitt is remarkable in his best ever performance combining movie star charisma with a melancholic edge. Hill too is good as the geeky numbers expert who is surprised when somebody actually listens to him. Bennett Miller’s direction is subtle recalling Steven Soderbergh but without any of his showiness.
Baseball movies are about as popular in the UK as football is over there but Moneyball is riveting. Oddly enough it reminds me of Football Manager back in the days before the 3D match engine when friends would look at the screen and wonder why I was obsessed with a game which appeared to be made up of spreadsheets. If some bright spark could take Beane’s theory and apply it to Scottish football and smash the tiresome bullying influence of the Old Firm that would be very welcome.
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