Two strikes: Moneyball

Defying years worth of expectations, Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), general manager of the Oakland A’s, assembles a team whose ailments, deformities, and acumen matter less than their ability to accumulate runs, thanks in large part to the prodding of Yale graduate and Jonah Hill-double Peter Brand, played by Jonah Hill.

I will trust the sports fans among my readers to provide the nuance — I haven’t even read the book on which Bennett Miller and screenwriters Steven Zaillan and Aaron Sorkin base their movie — but what I see onscreen is rather flat. Tonally, Moneyball confused me: it wants to be a “smarter” sports movie by eschewing locker room banter (Beane won’t even fraternize with the players in case he has to trade them) in favor of the grim statistical machinations between Beane and Brand Miller yet the script builds towards the Big Game anyway before sputtering towards a couple of false endings. Moneyball should have taken its cue from Pitt’s quiet self-mocking performance. I’ve waited a quarter of my life for the performances Pitt has given in the last three years. Finally he’s not treating acting like a foot stool he trips over. We can see the damage wrought by playing Brian Beane, another I-coulda-been-a-contendah, all the time; there’s a tension between Beane’s coolness (not once in the film does he enjoy a light moment with a colleague) and his bursts of violence, and Pitt, long legs crossed on desks, eyes bagged and tired, handles this with unexpected finesse. As misshapen as a manhandled pillow, often dull, Moneyball is still worth a look.

“It’s hard not to get romantic about baseball,” Beane says near the end of the movie when he himself is near the end. It’s equally hard for directors not to get romantic about baseball movies. My favorites concentrate on peripherals which are nevertheless imbued with the game’s romance: both, coincidentally, released in 1988: Bull Durham and The Naked Gun. Everyone remembers “Hey! It’s Enrico Pallazzo!”, the use of “I Love L.A.,”  the fat woman tumbling in slo-mo; what I return to is the shot of Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) as pitcher, face glowing with euphoria as he realizes that position’s power to manipulate audience reaction. More importantly, he’s swept up in the game. That’s romance.

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