Review: Money Ball (2011)

Money Ball (2011)

Directed by: Bennett Miller | 133 minutes | drama, biography, sports | Actors: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Robin Wright, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Chris Pratt, Kathryn Morris, Glenn Morshower, Sergio Garcia, Tammy Blanchard, Stephen Bishop, Adrian Bellani, Royce Clayton, Kerris Dorsey, Art Ortiz, Casey Bond, Keith Middlebrook Olivia Dudley, Ari Zagaris, Erin Pickett, Nick Porrazzo, Reed Thompson, Takayo Fischer, James Shanklin

When the Dutch baseball team became world champion on October 16, 2011, due to the time difference around here at eight in the morning, there were probably only a handful of people in the Netherlands watching. And that was one of the most astonishing achievements in recent Dutch sports history. How many people are up for a movie about baseball?

Perhaps surprisingly much, when the protagonist is called Brad Pitt and the screenplay is from the pen of Aaron Sorkin (‘The West Wing’, ‘The Social Network’). In fact, there is little to be afraid of, because ‘Moneyball’ follows the pattern of the sports film genre quite neatly. When sports dramas about horse riding and rugby (‘Seabiscuit’ and ‘Invictus’ respectively) can fill cinema halls and with sports comedies and parodies of them about bobsleigh, dodgeball and figure skating the boundaries of the familiar have been stretched considerably, it could well be that time is like never before. is ripe for a movie about baseball, especially now that ‘our boys’ are world champions.

Admittedly, the pattern of the sports film could hardly be avoided: ‘Moneyball’ is the film adaptation of the eponymous, true book about Billy Beane (played by Pitt), a talented but never really successful baseball player who caused a furore as a manager with the little Oakland A’s. He did not do that with moving speeches, training harder than the rest or the positive attitude to life we ​​have seen in other sports films, but with numbers. Figures that, as it soon turns out, can be rock solid.

These numbers originate from the brain of Peter Brand (Jonah Hill, still doomed to nerdy supporting roles), a young and fairly brilliant economist who never set foot on a baseball field, but based on an obscure, amateur handbook from twenty years ago as no one else knows which stats are important in baseball and which are not. Beane recognizes Brand’s vision and ties him to the A’s, who have just had to sell their best players and look for replacements. The two gentlemen pass the old, grubby scouts of the club and get a bunch of eccentric figures that nobody sees any good in – and who are therefore very affordable. These collisions produce beautiful, at times very funny scenes.

Chances are that as a viewer you don’t understand exactly why these party animals, insecure men of glass and worn-out veterans are now so good; a reasonable understanding of the sport of baseball is required to really make cheese out of all the jargon that goes by. What does become clear is that Beane is pursuing a transfer policy with second Brand that leads to bewilderment, if not opposition, inside and outside the club. The field coach (Philip Seymour Hoffman) in particular does not care about the new directions and buys and works on the basis of experience and intuition. With, you guessed it, disastrous results early in the season. You see, the commentators sneer, Beane has gone mad and is trying to reinvent our folk sport. What a figure. We’ve seen this battle of the innovative maverick fighting an arch-conservative system before: actually Billy Beane is like Jerry Maguire not losing his job.

Beane and Brand stick to their principles, throw out the bad guys and bad apples and – a book has been written about this for a reason – the result is easy to guess. That is not so much the charm of ‘Moneyball’. Not every movie needs to be hugely surprising to be good; with a film by Tarantino or the Dardenne brothers, you can also fill in the plot yourself within the first five minutes. What ‘Moneyball’ does well is to get you into the story with the help of the often hilarious and very entertaining dialogues that Sorkin specializes in, despite the clichés that are hidden in it. The good characters and their interpreters do the rest, with Hill as a semi-contact-disordered figure nerd and Pitt as a positive to the outside world, but meanwhile brooding anti-hero with assertiveness. The baseball games are rarely featured, which fortunately keeps the number of dramatic slow-motion shots to a minimum. Where they already come into the picture, it is often in the form of archive images or a simulated suggestion thereof. It gives the film a sense of authenticity that is weighty: this is not just the story of an ugly duckling who becomes a beautiful swan, but a real-life baseball team that changed the sport forever.

And not just baseball. Our own national sport number one, football, has also been implementing the principles of the moneyball philosophy in sports for years. As a sports film ‘Moneyball’ is not very revolutionary, but as a conventional yet beautifully written story that has transported sports worldwide into the 21st century, it has a huge resonance of innovation.

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