American underdog sports movies are far from a new concept, but rarely does one come together as well as Bennett Miller's MONEYBALL. It's something of a hard sell, given that the film more concerned with statistics and percentages than the game of baseball itself, yet writers Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin craft a surprisingly compelling story, and Miller's understated, almost old-fashioned direction allows the beauty of the story to play out naturally, despite a slightly overlong runtime.
As previously mentioned, MONEYBALL is more of a business film than a sports film, telling the story of the under-funded Oakland Athletics' 2002 Major League season, a season where general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) and freshly graduated economics major Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) shook the game's backroom strategy to the foundations. Brand's radical approach (selecting a team based on statistics rather than individual performance) isn't exactly the most cinematic of concepts, yet Zaillian's excellent story construction coupled with the wonderful dialogue from Sorkin simplifies what could be a densely intimidating and complex subject, with breezy, relatable, and very entertaining results. Much like Sorkin's Oscar-winning THE SOCIAL NETWORK screenplay, MONEYBALL uses the real-life events as a frame to hang much grander ideas on, and even for viewers unfamiliar or uninterested in the sport, there is much here to enjoy.
No discussion of MONEYBALL would be complete without special attention being paid to the fabulous double act of Pitt and Hill, both arguably delivering the finest performances of their careers. The two play so well off of one another, with Pitt in particular revealing a little seen everyman quality which fits his character, and the film, perfectly. Beane lives everyday with the spectre of past failure hovering around him, yet his ambition is never shaken, even in the face of tremendous adversity. It's a remarkably mature performance from Pitt capping off a very strong year (inculding similarly solid work in THE TREE OF LIFE), suggesting that he has finally shaken totally free of his pretty boy 'star' image to become a vastly talented actor, the Robert Redford heir apparent which many have been foreseeing for years. Hill also surprises in an against-type role, but is unquestionably second fiddle to Pitt.
There is strong competition from several films in this year's Oscar race, yet MONEYBALL more than deserves to stand alongside the best of them. Subtle, heartfelt and inspiring with perfectly pitched performances, Miller, Zaillian, Sorkin and Pitt knock it out of the park.