Thursday, September 29, 2011
Bennett Miller’s first feature since the superlative CAPOTE looks and feels like a great game of baseball: elegant, leisurely paced, with flashes of excitement and splashes of nostalgia. How apt that the film’s subject is America’s favorite pastime, specifically General Manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) and his Oakland Athletics’ rebuilding season of 2002 after their top players depart for richer free agent pastures. As team scouts bandy about names for replacements, Beane questions their approach, arguing that the A’s meager budget can’t compete with that of large-market teams like the Yankees. He discovers his muse in competing consultant Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), an economics major who champions a statistical formula to help determine a player’s value. Beane promptly hires him. They implement this new system for recruiting, derisively dubbed “moneyball”, and meet stiff resistance from their scouts and Manager Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin based their richly observed screenplay on the book by Michael Lewis (who also wrote the book upon which THE BLIND SIDE was based) and a story by Stan Chervin. The dialogue snaps, and the actors savor each word. Pitt has rarely appeared so comfortable in a character’s skin, with an easy grace reminiscent of vintage Redford or Newman. After establishing himself as the amusing oddball kid in crass comedies, Hill matures his stock character before our very eyes, revealing warmth and humanity behind the numbers cruncher. Hoffman provides solid support, as does Robin Wright as Beane’s estranged wife, while Kerris Dorsey has an unaffected charm as Beane's 12-year-old daughter. With only three films to his credit (the documentary THE CRUISE being the other) director Miller has reached the first ranks of filmmakers. He understands the romance of baseball and of film and fuses them gorgeously here (with the help of unfussy cinematography by Wally Pfister). The end result is the baseball movie equivalent of nirvana, and I, for one, never wanted to leave.