Monday, November 28, 2011


PCMR Verdict: A solid, blue-chip Hollywood product, that somehow never quite reaches the sum of its parts.

PCMR Rating: 6.5/10

Police procedurals are a well-trodden path for movie writers, with some of PCMR's favourite movies unashamedly in the genre. The French Connection, Fargo, L.A. Confidential and Zodiac all earn credibility from their portrayal of policemen at work, and all would be seriously diminished without it. But procedural dramas aren't limited to the cops and the detectives, oh my no. Audiences like watching lawyers too, and politicians and the military, especially once they're played by Hollywood actors with craggy faces and zippy lines, or their veneers and their boobs and their sexy uniforms.. (Steady! - Ed)

Aaron Sorkin is a grand-master of the sexy procedural drama, essentially getting under the covers of a profession for a story, populating it with attractive characters, and penning fizzy, dialogue-driven scenes between them, generally involving dense professional discussions loaded with innuendo and doublespeak. 'The West Wing' should need no introduction (sexy politicians), but also on his CV is 'A Few Good Men' (sexy lawyers, sexy military), the ill-fated-but-very-good 'Studio 60' (sexy TV producers) and most recently 'The Social Network' (sexy, er, programmers?).

As Mark Kermode put it in his typically succinct terms, 'The Social Network' was about as entertaining as a movie about a bunch of men in offices arguing about copyright could be. Harsh perhaps, as the Social Network was a very good movie, but Kermode nailed the fact that when he took on 'The Social Network', Sorkin took the procedural drama to precarious places, and wrote a Business Procedural. He came out the other side of that unscathed, but the question with 'Moneyball' is: can Sorkin make the world of baseball interesting and sexy, and resist falling into cliché?

Well, no book is unfilmable, but Moneyball must have been a real challenge, even for Sorkon. Adapted from the Michael Lewis's book, it tells the story of Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics baseball franchise, and how they introduced statistical analysis to baseball in 2002, in order to better evaluate players... and Brad Pitt's in it! (Phew, nearly lost me there! - Ed)

The interest in a story like this lies in the fact that Beane achieved amazing success against the odds on a shoestring, and radically changed the sport he loved in the space of a single season, by taking a big chance on using these statistical techniques pioneered by Yale graduate Peter Brand (Jonah Hill). You don't necessarily need to love baseball - or statistics - to enjoy watching this story unfold, in what is an extremely solid package of a movie.

On the package: director Bennett Miller is formerly responsible for Capote, Stephen Zaillian also worked on the script with Sorkin, and his last gig was American Gangster. Brad Pitt - looking more like Robert Redford every day - is good in the lead, ably supported by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright and Jonah Hill, and the Cinematography is by a certain Wally Pfister. Now this last detail might not seem that important, but let me tell you: this movie looks beautiful, and Pfister takes a lot of the credit for that, just as he did for much of the look of Chris Nolan's Batman movies.

Unfortunately, despite the presence of all these heavyweights, Moneyball never really enters the stratosphere for me. It's entertaining, sure, and the story is great. Pitt is very solid in the lead, and delivers his acres of dialogue capably enough, as we know he can. In particular his scenes with his young daughter, and with the unrecognisable team manager Hoffman, are good, but Jonah Hill was a little wooden for me. The story is the real star, but the movie also looks just amazing, so it is never a chore to watch.

At just over two hours, it's quite long, but the time never really drags. It would be harsh to describe it as 'about as entertaining as a movie about men introducing statistics to baseball can be', but I'm afraid some element of that is true. To its credit, it never lags into lazy sporting cliché, but does suffer from being a little, well, dull.

If you're a fan of baseball, or lived through the story and watched it happen, you'll probably love Moneyball. If on the other hand, like me, you're a fan of sport, or management, you'll probably just like it, maybe even a lot. If this had been a similar story, but set against the backdrop of the football world cup of 2002 for example ('Saipan - The Movie!' Yes! - Ed), I might have been a bit more invested, but it just didn't grab me. Dunphy would say "no, Bill, no, it's a good movie, not a great one."

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