Moneyball - Cinema Review

'Pitt is fine but this is a long way from his best and the kind of super-jock performance he's always been able to do in his sleep'

As a massive fan of Michael Lewis' book Moneyball: The Art Of Winning An Unfair Game I came out of Bennett Miller's adaptation impressed and satisfied. There's a lot in Lewis' book. A lot about baseball history, a lot about the ingrained psyche of a sporting world desperate not to change, a lot about the desire to win and how it can shape someone. Miller's film captures all of that. Beyond that even, it's the fantastical tale of the Oakland Athletics' 2002 season, something which even non-baseball fans will be able to see was a momentous sporting achievement.

At the same time as being impressed and satisfied though, I was disappointed. Miller's film has all of the same problems as Lewis' book. On the sporting side, there's the same lack of recognition towards the Athletics' three stellar starting pitchers, and the fact that Billy Beane's (Brad Pitt) theories failed to take their obvious talent and contribution to the team into account. There's also the failure of Lewis' book to conclude anything about Beane's own baseball career, Miller seeming to suggest that it just 'wasn't to be', which, amongst a film which reveres statistics so much, is hardly a verifiable scientific fact.

Screenwriters Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin keep us here for too long too. There's a very obvious moment where the film could end on an uplifting note and another, a few beats later, where it gets a little more poignant. The 'pickin' machine' scene gets a chapter to itself in the book, meaning its brief inclusion here hardly makes any sense, ditto the mention of Bill James, whose involvement isn't explained, making his inclusion pointless. The conversation between John Henry (Arliss Howard) and Beane too, and several scenes that form the pre-amble to this scene, just doesn't need to be here, text on the screen at this point would have sufficed.

The Oscar talk also seems a little premature, and far too reverent. Pitt is fine but this is a long way from his best and the kind of super-jock performance he's always been able to do in his sleep. The script, likewise, is perfectly enjoyable but it isn't Sorkin-esque. Rarely do conversations ignite with his madcap machine-gun fire dialogue and on several occasions we slip into sporting expositional cliches; 'I want to win so bad', says Beane at one point, hardly a necessary statement.

Perhaps the impression given off here is one of disappointment where the reality was anything but. Equally, Moneyball's flaws were, to me, obvious, although making a film this enjoyable out of book based largely on the innovative use of statistics must be commended.

Look further...

'[Bennett] Miller... has managed to craft a sports movie that sits happily alongside the likes of Friday Night Lights, Raging Bull and Drive, He Said in so much that they transcend perception, and ought to appeal to an audience ambivalent towards or unfamiliar with the sports at the centre of their narratives' - Hope Lies


  1. I didn’t love this but I have to say I really liked how everything came together real well, especially Pitt’s performance. He’s getting older day by day and keeps on looking more and more like Robert Redford but he is owning just about everything he’s apart of. Good review.

  2. Saw this yesterday and I enjoyed quite a bit, certainly one of the better films I've seen in the last few months. Was impressed by all in the film (although like Beane's management style, it kept away from the player's inner lives which would seem to be just as interesting a topic for the film to cover).

    I haven't read the book and I'm not familiar wth the mechanics of baseball at all (bottom of the ninth?) but it was consistent, a bit low key especially compared to other American sports dramas like Any Given Sunday (which I love) but I appreciated that aspect of it. Came away very interested in the minutiae of sports business (something I've always been interested in). Good film.

  3. Dan - the Redford comparison is a good one. Part of the reason they work so well in SPY GAME is due to their similar styles. I'm looking forward to catching up with THE TREE OF LIFE and seeing how he does in that.

    desertofreel - To be fair to your first point, the book does that as well really so I can understand the film not prying in to that area but yes, there are huge amounts of material there (I think David Justice was Mr Halle Berry) at one point). Like this, a book called GAME OF SHADOWS should fascinate even non-baseball fans.

    Bottom of the 9th: a baseball game has 9 innings. Each team have a turn batting during an inning; the away team bat first in the 'top', the home in the 'bottom'. The bottom of the 9th is the last inning of the game. Agree that the low key aspect of it is a major plus.

  4. I haven't seen this yet but want to. The whole concept of moneyball intrigues me and having followed the success of it and seen what the Oakland Athletics achieved I'm interested to see how that translates to the screen. Good review.