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“Moneyball” – Early Review (POSITIVE)

September 23, 2011

Brad Pitt is the man, plain and simple. His presence on screen is demanding as well as commanding. He can be serious and sometimes scary, but can be truly funny when he needs to be, and he has quite a few laughable moments in this film. His dialogue is snarky yet truthful, which comes hand in hand thanks to co-writer (& Oscar winner) Aaron Sorkin. The story about the 2002 twenty straight game winning team, the Oakland A’s, is a big story, and a grand one at that, thanks to the writing styles of Steven Zaillian. The movie has some key strong points; the pairing of Jonah Hill & Brad Pitt, odd yes, but works perfectly, the cinematography by Oscar winner Wally Pfister was terrific, and the story itself was captivating. However, the movie did drag for a while and did wear a tad thin near the middle towards the end.

“Moneyball” is the true story about Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane (Pitt). After losing to the Yankees during the crucial 2001 ADL’s, Beane loses his key players. It was an issue with money, the Yankees had a $120 million dollar budget, the A’s had $40 million, who was going to come out on top by buying the best players? The A’s had the lowest salary constraint in baseball. Billy found a way, while meeting with the Cleveland Indians GM, Billy meets Peter Brandt (Hill), an economics major from Yale who’s found a statistical way to create a winning team. Scouts have always focused on hitters and how they look. What Peter says is you need bases, get a man out on base and you have a winning team. The players you draft can have the worst throw, or the worst speed, or the least hits, but if he can get the most bases out of any player in the league, you want him. Billy is about to turn baseball on its ear when he uses this statistical data to analyze and place value on the players he picks for the team.

The story itself is very interesting, for anyone who likes baseball and was curious how a team was drafted, you should see this. I never understood the process of baseball scouting I just watched the game. But, how the movie explains it, well, it’s kind of freaky how everything unfolds. What Billy did changed the game forever. You know why the Boston Red Sox one the 2004 World Series? Billy’s method. It works. How the movie was drawn was a bit of downside for me. Although it was interesting, it tended to drag a lot; perhaps you could blame the editing. I noticed a few places here and there where it could’ve been trimmed. But, it did drag.

There’s this interesting use of flashbacks of Billy’s early days when he was a young kid fresh out of high school. He was offered to play for the NY Mets at the age of 18, but he couldn’t go to college to do it. It was either the Mets, with a sizeable check to go with it, or Stanford. Billy chose the Mets, and he wasn’t ready. As much as these scouts say he was, he really wasn’t. And Billy was traded from team to team over the years until he finally gave up and caved in to becoming a scout, which lead to him becoming the GM of the A’s. I liked how those flashbacks parallel the film. There’s a great speech Billy gives at the end to Peter about making decisions based on money and how it affects somebody.

The technical side of the film, the cinematography, is great. I’m all about camera work and Wally Pfister is one of the best cinematographers Hollywood has to offer. He’s got this way about capturing real-life situations and giving it the air to breath. These quick rack focuses going in and out are just many of his signature touches he’s done before. The editing, like I said before, I think could’ve been trimmed down just a tad, but it’s Drama. Lets be real, it’s an Oscar movie, most of them are long epic stories, this one is no different, but it’s a good story I think many people will be interested in seeing.

On a side night, as much as I yucked it up for Brad Pitt, I barely said anything about co-star Jonah Hill. Let me just say this, we know Jonah from all his raunchy comedies, this is a step back for him. He gave us a look at his dramatic abilities as an actor in the 2010 dramedy “Cyrus”, and I think that movie really helped garner more dramatic roles. He was terrific in this film; he might get his first Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. If he’s nominated, that’d be fantastic, he might not win, but it would break that stereotype about him only playing crude characters. Fingers crossed for Jonah.

GRADE: B+

Special Thanks to Dean Segev & Adam Katcher’s input on the film while attending the screening.

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