On paper, “Moneyball” is a movie that sells itself. It’s based on a best-selling book about our national pastime, the screenplay for which was adapted by Oscar winners Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zaillian, and it stars Brad Pitt, in all his handsome, charming splendor, as Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane. Throw in a killer supporting cast that includes Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman and several real-life ball players, and you’ve got the makings of a hit.
With a 94 percent certified fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, “Moneyball” seems to be a solid winner with critics. So take an early seventh-inning stretch and settle in for some sports clichés as we sort through the “Moneyball” reviews!
“A sports-centric come-from-behind drama that harbors profound truths under its self-effacing grin of an exterior, ’Moneyball’ is a movie of such loping, unforced ease and solid entertainment value that it’s easy to take its gifts for granted. [Director Bennett] Miller barely puts a foot wrong in bringing to life the tale of Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane, who in 2002 — competing against teams with three times his payroll — sought to rebuild the slumping A’s and revolutionize baseball recruiting using ’Sabermetrics,’ a system by which players are chosen based on who gets on base most often. That approach sounds so simple as to be self-evident. But in ’Moneyball,’ such logic runs afoul of Beane’s old-school scouts, who are played in the movie by a colorfully grizzled collection of character actors and some real-life baseball veterans. Their banter, in which they refer to players’ jaw lines and girlfriends while they decide whom to hire, lends ’Moneyball’ a thoroughly enjoyable through-line of tough, vernacular wit. What’s more, that plain-spoken charm couches a far deeper conceptual point: that objective truth not only exists but matters, even at a time when it’s continually being trumped by superstition, ’feelings’ and irrational belief.” — Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post
The Brad Pitt Factor
“If Pitt’s role in ’Moneyball’ is more of a conventional star turn than his career-shifting performance as the stern 1950s father in ’The Tree of Life’ (for which he emphatically deserves awards but won’t win any), it’s still terrific. He’s on-screen in almost every scene, often filling it up in extreme close-up, and captures the bluff, buff and shrewd Beane, a washed-up jock who embraced an unorthodox statistical philosophy through sheer necessity, with great wit and physicality. (Let me throw in that ’Moneyball’ is a delirious study of bad early-2000s guy fashions and haircuts, which may elude some of the audience but is definitely conscious.) Let me hasten to assure you that ’Moneyball’ isn’t all that much of a baseball movie, although fans of the national pastime will of course rush to see it. It’s a prime Brad Pitt movie — arguably the prime Brad Pitt movie — and an American fable about a battered but lovable divorced dad who defies conventional wisdom and beats the odds.” — Andrew O’Hehir, Salon.com
The Book-to-Film Comparison
“The big-screen adaptation of Michael Lewis’ engaging 2003 book is also filled with compromises. Someone crammed ’Major League’-style sports clichés into a more nuanced story about baseball and progress — and then tried to fit a Brad Pitt star vehicle inside of that. The result is an interesting but frustrating near-miss. Chronology and context are mucked with liberally. This happens in almost every sports movie based on real events, although A’s fans will be blown away that Tim Hudson, Barry Zito and Mark Mulder and their combined 57 wins in 2002 are scrubbed from existence here. Of the three, only Hudson gets a cameo, and he blows his start.” — Peter Hartlaub, San Francisco Chronicle
The Final Word, Pro-Con Style
“Bennett Miller’s’ Moneyball’ — adapted by Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian from the nonfiction book by Michael Lewis — is a sports movie for people who don’t like sports movies. I know this is true because I enjoyed it. … Cinematographer Wally Pfister’s deliberately unglamorous presentation of the A’s dilapidated clubhouse is a long way from the gold-and-sepia tones of Barry Levinson’s ’The Natural.’ ’You can’t help but be romantic about baseball,’ Billy observes to Peter, even as he’s being reviled by his own organization for his supposedly bloodless reliance on the stats. It’s to the director’s credit, and Pitt’s, that ’Moneyball’ is anything but bloodless — in its own quiet, unspectacular way, this movie courses with life.” — Dana Stevens, Slate.com
“The downside of Pitt’s triumph is that it unbalances the movie, throwing more of the focus on Billy than the team. To put ’Moneyball’ over the fence, Miller and his writers needed to make something else hit home: the meaning of the on-base percentage. What does it say about a player who can’t throw far, can’t steal a base, rarely hits a ball over the fence, and yet can be as great an asset as a future Hall of Famer? Instead of answering that question — and dramatizing how wins can be built from unflashy players working in sync under a manager who understands ’small ball’ — Miller shifts into montage mode (They won! They won again! They’re on a streak!), as if Beane and Brand had written a computer program that was running to its inevitable conclusion. That, of course, leaves the team’s manager, Art Howe (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, maybe to pay Miller back for helping him win an Oscar in ’Capote’), a cipher, a nonpresence on and off the field. ’Moneyball’ has everything but team spirit.” — David Edelstein, New York
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