I hate sports. Pretty much all sports. I’ve never been particularly athletic. I really don’t play well with others. And, unless they involve a mix of pageantry and extreme violence, I’m just not interested in spectator sports.
Football, tennis, cricket, cycling; I’d rather be pushing drawing pins into my knees than watch them. In fact, the only sport that really holds my attention is bullfighting.
Bullfighting has everything my sociopathically rigorous viewing tastes demand. It’s got the pomp, it’s got the ceremony, it’s got the pretty costumes and, critically, it’s got the ritualised, extreme bloody violence. Basically, it’s Easter Sunday Mass. With a live crucifixion.
I particularly hate American sports. For starters, I’m not American, I haven’t been raised on them and I don’t understand the rules. Secondly, no-one plays them except the Americans. Calling it the World Series when you’re the only one playing is not only inaccurate it’s just plain arrogant. Thirdly, they’re too long. Three hours of watching a Cro-Magnon spit punctuated by occasional bursts of frantic activity is two hours 59 minutes too long watching a Cro-Magnon spit.
And the films! God, I hate sports films. I may smear myself with my own excrement and run through the streets taking random scalps, singing: “Hello darkness, my old friend,” over and over while weeping hysterically if I have to sit through yet another film where a plucky team of underdogs are brought together by a down-on-his-luck coach offered one last chance at redemption and led by an over-the-hill player aiming for one last shot at glory as they go up against bigger, better, richer, opponents. The coach won’t get along with his star player but they’ll put aside their differences and make a spectacular comeback as the team, against all the odds, makes it to the final where ultimately, win or lose, the result itself is superfluous. It’s how the game is played that matters, yeah? Yeah, right…
Which brings us to Moneyball, the 133 minute-long (too long) true story of a down-on-his-luck coach who takes a bunch of rejects and builds a team of plucky underdogs for that one last desperate shot at redemption. While most of the usual clichés are present and correct in Moneyball’s starting line-up, the film throws more than its share of unexpected curveballs (Curveballs! You see what I did there?) at its audience, not least of which it’s a sports movie with very little actual sport in it. It’s also damn good.
After another losing season where his best players are poached by bigger, richer teams, Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), manager of the cash-strapped Oakland A’s is forced to rebuild his team from scratch. A chance meeting with Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a young Economics graduate with some radical ideas, inspires Beane to hire Brand as his assistant manager and together they set out to change the face of baseball. Bucking the accepted wisdom, they take some of the most misfit players in the sport and build a winning team based not on the conventional worth of the players but on their statistical ability. But they face stiff opposition not just from the fans and the media but from their own staff, including coach Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman). With not just his reputation but his job on the line, can Beane change the team’s fortunes?
Working from a script by Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, director Bennett Miller has fashioned a sharp, intelligent, funny, surprisingly uplifting film that body-swerves sports heroics, completely dispensing with tired clichés like slo-mo base-stealing and players spotting loved ones amid a 50,000-strong crowd, in favour of office politics and character development. You know, the kind of things you watch drama for. The action rarely strays onto the field, Pitt’s manager is too superstitious to watch the games, spending the time driving around while Hill texts him the plays; this is a baseball movie with precious little baseball. This is a film about relationships, about ideas, about belief. The underdogs here aren’t the team of no-hopers, they’re Pitt and Hill. The battle they’re locked in isn’t for the championship but for the soul of their sport. They’re the little guys taking on the might of corporate America.
Sporting a charming, playful, effortless Pitt performance that’s sure to be Oscar-nominated and a stunningly good performance by Hill in his first straight role as the shy, bookish Brand, at it’s heart Moneyball is both a buddy movie charting Pitt and Hill’s bromance and a metaphor for the effects of the selfish, ravenous capitalism that has plunged the world into recession. As baseball consumes itself, teams paying ridiculous high salaries, chasing the best players in a war of attrition, only Pitt’s Beane and Hill’s Brand see the truth; that the situation is unsustainable and that the only way to save the game is to tear down the status quo.
While the film contains some bravura scenes with a phone negotiation-cum-high stakes bluff by Pitt as exciting a scene as any in this year’s action flicks, Moneyball works best in it’s quieter moments; Pitt’s interactions with onscreen daughter the heartbreakingly good Kerris Dorsey, Hill’s sweet attempt to fire a player, Pitt alone, his easy, infectious charm masking a man tortured by doubt and failure, missed chances and unfulfilled potential.
Soulful and thoughtful, Moneyball will actually bring a tear to your eye and swell your chest. If all sports films were this good, I’d take one up.
Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Robin Wright, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Kerris Dorsey