You know that fall Oscar season is on the march when the “based on a true story” dramas start rolling out to your local cinema. Moneyball looks to be cashing in on this tired format, combining baseball with all-American star Brad Pitt as he tries to win the big game against all odds. Yet it refuses traditional trappings that are both pleasurable and middling.
Brad Pitt stars as Oakland A’s general manager, Billy Beane, who’s trying to walk off a loss to the New York Yankees. The team’s meager 40 million dollar budget (as opposed to the 100+ million backing the Yankees) gets Beane thinking inside the crazy box, and in assembling his new team he adopts an algorithm proposed by Yale economics graduate Peter Brand (Jonah Hill). Of course, there are nay-sayers aplenty as Beane and Brand put their gamble to the test.
For a sports drama of the “based on a true story” variety, Moneyball is surprisingly understated. Typically these tales are quite showy, milking the melodrama for as many tears as you can muster, but Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill never over-play their hand (Hill’s role is a good departure from his normally juvenile roles). Cinematographer Wally Pfister (Christopher Nolan’s visual artist since Memento) also goes for simplicity over tear-jerking, with a dark and grainy visual aesthetic that speaks to the team’s poverty.
These elements are tethered to a lean script co-written by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, who adapted the tale from the book of the same name by Michael Lewis. Sorkin’s touch can be felt in the taut, witty dialogue, but it’s not overripe like the machine gun strafing featured in last year’s The Social Network.
All of this is to say that Moneyball is a sports drama that avoids the typical tropes of the genre; it will either annoy fans of these tales, or tickle their emotional intellect. It’s an adequate film, but doesn’t seem to have a concise vision, stumbling across its conclusion like someone searching for his missing car keys.
While not striking out, this film also doesn’t hit a home run. Rather, it bunts to get to first base. Moneyball: Not much for the crowd to go wild for.