Director: Bennett Miller
Writers: Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin, Stan Chervin and based on the book by Michael Lewis
Principal cast: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill and Philip Seymour Hoffman
Release date: 25th November 2011.
In an attempt to compete with the major league big spenders, the manager of the Oakland A’s baseball team, Billy Beane (Pitt), turns his back on the conventional methods of team management to piece together a cut budget side based on the computer generated analysis of Harvard graduate and baseball fanatic Peter Brand (Hill).
Beane attempts to reverse the fortunes of the club with his team of fading stars and lesser valued players, who perform solely to a game plan derived from the analytical data provided by Hill.
As Beane clashes with his coaching staff over the new ways of team selection and play, the manager knows that the ultimate test of his new methods will be on the field.
Bennett Miller’s interpretation of the actual events that changed the way that baseball was coached is an intensely gritty and satisfying film that strangely focuses as much on the backroom wheeler dealing carousel of player transfer markets and the financial constraints of smaller teams as the actual action taking place on the field.
This is very much a different kind of baseball movie to the romanticised image of the game as portrayed in movies such as A League of their Own (1992) or The Pride of the Yankees (1942).
Steely, sharp and as much about the economic realities of professional sport, the rise of the underdog to take on the spending power of the larger teams is cleverly captured on screen by combining a barrage of illustrated statistics, computer programs and league tables alongside the actual playing footage.
Cinematographer Wally Pfister (best known for his work with Christopher Nolan) ensures that the film has a grey and gritty complexion as we witness a succession of run down changing rooms, stadium tunnels and an endless parade of used plastic cups.
The initial sporting footage is restricted solely to short moments of televised broadcasts and commentaries which give the overall tone of the movie a documentary feel that is slightly similar in tone to films such as Michael Mann’s The Insider (1999).
But as the Oakland A’s stun the sporting world and head toward an unprecedented run of twenty league wins, both director and cinematographer cleverly allow the field play to finally open out with the addition of some sporting suspense accompanied by a brooding yet uplifting score courtesy of composer Mychael Danna.
If director, cinematographer and composer do not disappoint, then the cast is also to be applauded.
Hoffman delivers some steel and the focus of resistance to the new methods of selection, recruitment and game planning. Field coach Art Howe is portrayed as someone not only closer to the actual play but whose friction with Beane provides the basis of the classic backroom sporting struggle between coach and manager.
Hill is the true revelation, freed of the constraints of the comedy roles that have come to define his career, his portrayal of the fanatically obsessed, slightly introverted and highly analytical Brand is an understated and truly great performance that is also slightly reminiscent of Tobey McGuire in mannerism.
Comparisons between Pitt and Robert Redford will not doubt continue, especially since both have now appeared in a baseball movie, but whereas The Natural (1984) saw Redford take the lead in a fictionalised and almost comic book take on the sport, Pitt’s portrayal of Beane is a gritty and intense performance, laced with the theme of a man disappointed by the legacy of his own game playing youth and desperate to make his mark in the sport.
Pitt has developed and matured tremendously as an actor over the last decade, giving us some memorable performances and whilst he has recently indicated that his time in front of the camera may cease upon reaching fifty, we hope that the actor will change his mind.
Intelligent, gritty and well acted. Pitt and Miller deliver a sporting movie that deserves to be a major league success. Recommended.