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Moneyball
Genre Biography
 
Review:

You've heard of Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Reggie Jackson but who the hell is Billy Beane? Moneyball turns this unsung hero into a household name. The general manager for Oakland Athletics modernised the business of baseball in the 2002 season by using key statistics to draft overlooked yet valuable players, giving them a chance to shine.

Moneyball is based on the book, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis. The book drew on the Oakland A's sabermetric approach to selecting players based on numbers rather than relying on the collective wisdom of insiders and player reputation. Billy Beane (Pitt), a baseball hopeful turn general manager and assistant general manager, Peter Brand (Hill), redefined baseball business in 2002 when the Oakland A's were gutted by $100 million plus teams and forced to use their limited buying power more efficiently.

Moneyball is this year's equivalent of The Social Network with the same Oscar-winning screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin behind the script with the equally accomplished Steve Zaillian of Schindler's List fame. The script isn't as jam-packed as The Social Network, yet offers the same captivating and intelligent range of entertainment with good pacing and a realistic verve. The glory story has been turned on its head, remaining just as human as The Blind Side, but not feeding into the predictable "winning" formula.

Instead, the screenwriters have drawn parallels with the current state of the economy. This clever tie-in becomes more and more obvious as the system drills down to statistics instead of relying on speculation, offering a thought-provoking stance on an already intriguing true story. It's not to say that Moneyball has diluted baseball's identity - there's still plenty of caps, mits, bats, spitting and butt-slapping.

This biographical sports drama is directed by Bennett Miller, whose acclaimed biographical take on American author Truman Capote gleaned him an Oscar nomination. So it's no surprise to see Philip Seymour Hoffman, whose Oscar-winning portrayal of Capote put him on the map. Despite Hoffman's win, he remains on the fringe of Moneyball... delivering a "gutsy", subdued and uncharacteristically quiet performance as Oakland A's coach Art Howe.

This unconventional quality is maintained through the entire cast. Brad Pitt has generally been overlooked as an actor in awards season over the years. His stubborn, hardy role as Beane gives Moneyball purpose and impetus and he's already shown great strides in several film critic events in the build-up to awards season.

Pitt carries the film with a pensive, complex Billy Beane whose self-confidence is at an all-time low. He sticks to his guns, despite waves of criticism - backing a struggling team despite a failed marriage and short-lived career as a rookie. Hill supports him as Peter Brand - the diligent and altruistic economics graduate, who helps Beane take the leap of faith. Wright appears briefly in something of a cameo, but lends her name to this overlooked ensemble.

Just like The Social Network didn't expect its viewers to have any programming knowledge, you're not required to be a fan of baseball to enjoy Moneyball. It does help to know the basics, but this biopic is more about the back room business deals than bunting, walking and stealing bases. The politics of insider decisions and inflated valuations is universal for any high-paying organisation where money and winning go hand-in-hand.

At over two hours, you'd expect this character-driven sports drama to be a bit of a slog, but the writing is crisp, the true story has clout, the direction is well-balanced and the film delivers a spirited mix of drama with a good sense of humour with strong performances.

The bottom line: HR

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