[Review] Moneyball (Miller, 2011)
It’s all true. Everything you’ve heard. Moneyball is “not just another baseball movie.” But, Lord, give me Field of Dreams, give me Little Big League, even give me Angels in the Outfield. But keep MONEYBALL away.
I will concede that the film looks wonderful. It has rich darks and infinite blacks, excellent shadows, and pale whites. The shots down long bending stadium corridors are magnificently focused and clean. The film even has an incredibly underrated script. It is full of natural dialogue with organic pauses, repetitions, and idiosyncrasies. The words have such strong rhythm.
Why doesn’t the story? Moneyball is the story of a great film that was murdered in the editing room. At least 15 minutes could have been edited out of the second and third acts. The analytic neatness embedded in the theme is destroyed by disjunct editing that recklessly jumps from scenario to scenario with wobbly confidence. It’s as if the editor was just following the script and putting in the first take he or she could find then letting it play until another switch was necessary. It results in a very sloppy picture. I feel smug complaining about this, but the movie is about numbers, analysis, and math.
Also, Moneyball frequently attempts to employ the inspirational music device while talking about using players who have been numerically overlooked by other franchises. First of all, it is cheap emotion. Second, it is cheap metaphor. Third, it is a bad metaphor. The underdog theory and the BPitt/JHill vs. Everyone bout becomes exhausting. The real problem is that there are no stakes.
No stakes. No personal relationships. No attachments. We are even told that the GM isn’t supposed to have close relationships with players. The audience is not full of players. We are never given access to anything interesting or sympathetic about these characters. We see a touch of Billy’s past and his failure. In fact, Brad Pitt does a fairly good piece of work in this role. It is understated and precise, a much more difficult character than he might generally see. Either way, as the pressure and focus turns onto the players and the game during the final act, the audience is left with nothing on which to hold. Moneyball fails to establish any kind of emotional pivot and, as a result, a great adaptation and a great story lose popular sympathy even in a brilliantly shot, lit, scripted, and acted work.