Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Review: Moneyball

Rating: 12a
Duration: 133 mins

Hot off the heels of his acclaimed script for The Social Network at this year's Oscars for his scribing efforts, Aaron Sorkin returns with American baseball tale, Moneyball. He's not the only respected affiliate with the project either, as Brad Pitt assumes the lead after an award-worthy performance in The Tree of Life.

Naturally, the theme of baseball is certain to appeal to American audiences, yet alienate others (i.e. the rest of the world), but Moneyball succeeds at not only being about said sport, as it captures the characters and sensibility of what is essentially a drama interspersed with sporting elements.

Based on the true story of Billy Beane (Pitt) as he attempts to rewrite the tactical and managerial style along with newly appointed brain-box tactician Peter (Hill), they commit to turn around the ailing fortunes of the Aukland A's. Beane risks his reputation, as well as his family, as he boldly and almost single-handedly redefines the game from a tactical and statistical point of view.

Upon failing to gain much of a nationwide release in comparison to Breaking Dawn Part 1 at a similar time, it instead relies upon word of mouth to draw in a rather specific, niche audience. Indeed, you will find the performances of the protagonists fantastically poised in relation to the aforementioned Twilight, with Pitt and Hill offering up their best career efforts to date. The Assassination of Jesse James and The Tree of Life revealed that Pitt can slot into roles that require a more depth and subtly as opposed to a Mr and Mrs Smith type. He handles the character of Billy Beane convincingly as he strays from the usual type casting he's received prior in his career. Hill breaks out of his comedy comfort blanket to play straight-up analyst  Peter, who begins to forge a trusting professional and personal bond with Pitt's Beane.

As expected from Sorkin, the script is witty, intelligent and snappy, as it entertainingly flows beyond the constraints of a sports-drama. Certainly character driven in nature, the story explores interpersonal relations, character complexities and dynamics, whether it is in the work space or at home with the family: it all feels strongly connected as a dramatic and interesting study on personalities rather than baseball.

For the majority it is easy to forget the primary aim of retelling the story of one man's brash tactics in the world of baseball, as the dialogue and layered characters drive the piece in a stand-out manner. However, the film as a whole does feel a little bit too long, especially during the final third when the deals are made, the season is over and the on-pitch action ceases. The ending is constructed a little too neatly as it slows down drastically as it approaches the two-and-a-half-hour mark.

Even though the final half hour of the narrative falters, it doesn't alter the enjoyment during the previous two hours: sharp, funny scenes allow audiences to warm to the characters, as a likeable story begins to shine through the locker room and corridors of the Oakland A's stadium.

Whilst the finals scenes wither, one notable point of mention comes in the middle of the action, as Billy and Peter take part in a snappy and superb office scene with a series of phone calls as they attempt to bluff and double bluff rival managers with various player deals. By its nature an entertaining few minutes, the clever writing and subtly gel well: one moment Billy will be offering a player to one team, then proposing a different deal to another seconds later, as Peter keeps another on hold in an attempt to offload to them. The scene is typified as deals swing their way as the closure culminates in a comical fist pump courtesy of the now confident Peter.

VERDICT: Moneyball is, for the most part, an engaging and pleasantly entertaining drama that encumbers the world of baseball without completely alienating a non-acquainted audience. Excellent acting strengthens the solid script, only marred by the latter stages that lose its initial spark and drags on too much.