Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Case for the I in Team

Moneyball was recommended to me by someone who was initially very keen, but then, on hearing that the film revolved around baseball, got cold feet.  That was a shame, as Moneyball is actually a pretty good film.

Brad Pitt stars as Billy Beane, a baseball star that never was, managing a small scale team in a major league game, and in the process of losing his best stars to the teams with the bigger wallets.

The film charts the way Beane took to mathematics (in particular, statistics) to put together a team of people that no one else would take and playing them in a way that would ensure runs on the board, if not necessarily victory. 

The science around this has been discussed all over the place, most recently with regards to Rugby in New Zealand.

But there is a science to movies too, and this one puts together the charms of Pitt, an underdog story, a nerd with an idea (the mythical mathematical genius Peter Brandt, played with wide mouthed geekiness by Jonah Hill), and a cute girl in an attempt to get box office gold.  And in the US at least, it has worked.

However, there was a certain ingredient in this recipe that I found sickening, and that was Beane's daughter, played with nauseating precociousness by an actress whom I hope never to see again, except perhaps in an Indie film swearing her head off.  The character is obviously created to "ground" Beane and show a human side that doesn't come out in the machinations of his dream team plan, but how she is put together, especially with her song (SHE HAS A SONG!) is enough to make anyone violently ill, and I would plan any toilet stop during this film for any scene where she might appear - otherwise you might end up in the lavatory vomiting instead.

As irritating as she was, the character is a very, very small part of the film.  Because Pitt is everything else.  He is supported by Hill, Phillip Seymour Hoffman (who mainly sits around in dugouts a lot, looking sullen), and a lot of other characters who you could miss if you blinked as they really act purely to give someone for Pitt to talk to (only occasionally, with).  

There may be no I in team, but in Beane's world, there are barely any people in the team either.  This is not an inspirational story of a team of underdogs overcoming the odds, drawing strength from each other and learning life lessons in the process.  No, this is a very cut throat story of getting the (statistically) best team together, cutting dead wood in the process, rolling over opposition, and delivering a result.  Beane is the driver - everyone else is a passenger in the back, who you can only see peering around the seats every once in a while.

It's lucky then that Pitt provides such a great performance.  He is everything one would expect from Pitt: charismatic, likeable, driven and determined.  It would be interesting to know if Beane was this likeable while at the same time being fairly inhuman to his players. 

But Pitt carries it all through to the very end, getting me past the stomach churning laxative that is his daughter's CD (no attempts at subtlety at all there), over the criminal underuse of Hoffman (though I was never sure why his character was allowed to stay on considering Beane's slash and burn policy with everyone else), and takes Hill under his wing in a patron/patronising kind of way. 

This film did not convince me that baseball was interesting.  This film did not convince me that Beane was a genius, though he definitely came across as an innovator, inspired as he was by desperation to take a risk; but the model used was someone else's.  The film did not convince me that he was a leader, as, for the most part, he changed the team one step removed.

But the film did convince me that the science of sport is a cruel and cutthroat business.  It did convince me that what happens in the back offices has a huge impact on what happens at the front.  And it showed that winning might not necessarily be about getting the best players on the field, but rather getting a combination that works.  Sport is completely a business, as the All Blacks in 2011 definitely showed.

Verdict:  Moneyball is all about Brad Pitt in the way that the Descendants was all about George Clooney, and that is a very good thing indeed.  Not as accessibly or likeable as Descendants, Moneyball is definitely more of a feel good film, rising to a challenge and meeting adversity with a fresh perspective.  Only the cloying bag of sickening treacle that is Beane's daughter weighs the rating down.  7 pitches our of 10.


missrabbitty said...

mmm...brad pitt

R said...

So Bradd Pitt yes, SBW no. I will try to remember that... ;)