Romantically speaking, Sport’s fans are in the game for the drama, the unpredictability, the “did you see that!” factor. Artistically, that makes sport the biggest, broadest theatre in the world (EBFS is playing fast and loose here but go with us) where countless plots, subplots, vengeances and vendettas are played out every hour of every day to the delight and despair of millions. The crucial factor is that the ending is not known. It can be pontificated about, predicted and willed against but until the whistle goes everything is up in the air (and if it isn’t, well that’s just another drama to enjoy). Film, a medium set in stone, has had and will always have problems translating the ephemeral successfully. The best sports movies aren’t even about sport, Bull Durham, a romance that happens to involve baseball, Raging Bull, a biopic that just happens to be about a boxer, Mean Machine (the original), a mean spirited political allegory that still found time to hit a guy in the crotch a few times during an amazingly filthy, American football game finale. When films are made with just “sport” as their central theme, confusion, then boredom sets in. Why do they bother making them then? First, there is a perceived, ready made market of millions ready to watch them (not always true but Hollywood grasps at any straw) and secondly, because sometimes the story needs to be told. Welcome to the Oakland Athletics just after the turn of the century. How much the Oakland A’s, Billy Beane and the phenomenon known as “Moneyball” will end up changing the sporting sphere is unquantifiable. Safe to say though, that the ripples spread like wildfire, the creed adopted and adjusted to fit any sport, any situation.
Screenwriter’s Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian have dragged a story arc out of Michael Lewis’ superb, accurate essay Moneyball. Moneyball was a carefully and excellently explained book about how the Oakland A’s managed to compete, and surpass the big money giants of baseball (during the regular season at least) on a shoestring budget of just forty million dollars, the Yankees and the Redsox spend upwards of one hundred and ten million dollars on players wages. Explaining how a Harvard graduate (Yale in the film, Haha) of economics looked at statistics differently and convinced general manager Billy Beane to re-assess how he picked players is the theme of the book. However, conveniently, Sorkin and Zaillian pull out a heroic underdog story from the numbers, with players injured, out of position, over the hill, washed up and forgotten forging a formidable team that somehow managed to win twenty games in a row during the 2002 season.
The forced double act central to Moneyball is between Brad Pitt’s athletic, ex-pro, all American, GM Billy Beane and Jonah Hill’s schlubby, tubby, geeky stats man Pete Brand. Brand and Beane are nicely opposite and both need each other. The scene in which a byzantine maze of deadline day deals is conducted by the two of them in Beane’s office is their standout moment, perfectly encapsulating the madness of professional sports and the importance of victory on any plane. The dynamic is perfect filmic fodder so it seems a shame that it is also a conceit. The real Brand (named Paul DePodesta) is an athletic, handsome man. So, although the reasons for the change are totally logical and justified and the thought of Pitt and another suave, chisel jawed hero marching around saving baseball might be a bit too bastardy, it still ruins the integrity slightly. Ever so slightly.
So we have a tightly structured and witty screenplay, professional direction from Bennet Miller, an emotive score, standout performances from the leads, an excellent supporting cast of grumpy coaching staff and goofball players (every sports film worth it’s salt needs grumpy coaching staff and goofball players, we all know this) and a great big montage, obviously, in the middle explaining just why winning 20 games in a row is such a big deal. Topped off with an ending that is poignant in one of THE churches of baseball and some nice information about what happened next, which is the only similarity EBFS could see with The Social Network (down at the back!). Everything is in the right place and pitched perfectly, the story ticks along leaving little room for complaint BUT, for one of the great sporting tales of the twenty first century, make no doubt about that, there is a little flatness or lack of flag waving about proceedings. The guys that not just changed baseball, but possibly the way we look at all sports forever should be jumping about on the roof screaming it, not sitting in a well crafted film, behind a nice desk, drinking coffee quietly. More bombast please.