I’ve always had as much interest in sport as a quadruple amputee does in an elliptical machine. It was a liberating moment, finally mustering the social courage in my mid-teens to say, “No, I didn’t see the match last night, Football bores the shite out of me”. It’s what most young males are supposed to be interested in, right? To lionise overpaid philandering prima donnas kicking a pig’s bladder substitute from one end of a pitch to another for 90 interminable minutes. There’s an inescapable process of inculcation from schoolyard to workplace watercooler. You’re a man, It’s what you’re supposed to be interested in damn it!
Needless to say a love for statistic-intensive Warhammer board gaming became a closely guarded childhood secret lest I be ostracised entirely. It stuck in my craw how it was socially acceptable to pore over fantasy football data tables and wax lyrical as to performance of José what’s-his-name who scored 6 times during some Peruvian minor league match circa 1976 yet knowing the name of every character in “The Thing” was equated to mental illness.
If for whatever reason you assiduously avoid sports movies as a rule, if you’d rather be subject to a frontal lobotomy than sit through another tale of disadvantaged inner-city youths overcoming adversity under the guidance of an idealistic basketball/soccer/tiddlywinks coach etc, make an exception for the Brad Pitt Baseball flick “Moneyball” which should bear the subtitle “The Revenge of the Stats Nerds”.
Pitt plays Billy Beane, General Manager of the down-at-heel Oakland Athletics. With the team faltering in the leagues and experiencing a distinct lack of funding from the clubs moneymen as rivals swoop in like vultures to steal away his best players, Beane is set to make a radical strategic departure for the next season.
When on a visit to the Cleveland Indians in hope of making some affordable bargain basement player acquisitions he meets one Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a shy, unassuming Yale Graduate possessed of some intriguing notions relating to player selection. Impressed, Beane sees him swiftly headhunted and together they set out to defy conventional baseball wisdom which states big money guarantees the star players who in turn ensure big wins.
Repudiating the traditionalist doctrine of the recruitment scouts Brand indentifies potential players through analysis of their “on base percentage”, ignoring factors which would preclude them from selection by the old guard such as whether they have the “eye candy” marketability factor or whether they’re perceived as being over the hill. Faced with opposition and dissension amongst the Oakland Raider ranks and scathing criticism from the wider baseball community Beane and Brand prepare to weather the storm, convinced their daring departure will eventually pay off in the creation of a low cost yet high performance team.
Based on a true story Moneyball is eminently watchable if not downright engrossing. To some degree it’s still your clichéd sports narrative of triumph in the face of adversity; a bunch of rejects defying the odds. However its refreshingly technocratic predilections with a concentration upon executive politicking, high stakes managerial decisions and locker-room conflict make it stand out in a typically saccharine soaked, romanticised genre. It’s the antithesis of “Field of Dreams” yet not entirely devoid of heart.
Pitt and Hill deliver nice naturalistic performances, their rapport a pleasure. Seeing our meek statistician, the nerd Brand, shed his diffidence under the wing of jaded veteran Beane as the two tackle a veritable mountain of resistance is makes for some delicious moments. How to best Philip Seymour Hoffman’s obstinate coach in his insistence that star batsman, Carlos Peña, be fielded over a supposedly lesser talent chosen by our boys in accordance with their grand scheme? Simple, sell Peña and leave good old coach with no other choice than to use the chosen man. BOOM! Watch as the jock's face drops.
Director Bennett Miller keeps a snappy pace, the proceedings tightly focused. There’s no extraneous fat. It’s lean and direct. Never do we become lost in unnecessarily complex elucidations of baseball theory yet neither does it feel as though things have been drastically dumbed down. Our main star Pitt is positively effervescent. The script is devoid of trite exposition, Beane’s acute awareness as to the superficiality and vapid pandering of talent scout culture is highlighted by way of unobtrusive flashbacks throughout the narrative. Round things off with pleasing verité-style camerwork and decent little score and you've got a film thats hard to dislike.
Essentially Moneyball is a sports flick which the kid who was always picked last during gym class can enjoy, an intellectual baseball movie. It’s a tale of jocks vs. brains; the wonderful things can be achieved when the two unite and reinforces the age old adage that one should never judge a book by its cover. A home run and then some.