'Moneyball' fails to live up to entertainment standards

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(Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)

“Moneyball” isn’t director Bennett Miller’s first foray into fact-based drama — Bennett’s last film was Oscar winner “Capote” back in 2005. While “Capote” managed to tell a compelling story and featured an all-time great performance from Philip Seymour Hoffman, “Moneyball” suffers from its true-to-life basis, dwelling on the facts of Billy Beane’s attempt to revolutionize baseball too much to tell an entertaining story.

Brad Pitt stars as Beane, a failed professional baseball player turned general manager for the Oakland A’s. As his star players keep getting yanked from under him because of the A’s disadvantaged financial situation, Beane turns to a theory pioneered by Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), which uses statistics to construct a hypothetical “perfect team,” much to the chagrin of other A’s officials, especially field manager Art (Philip Seymour Hoffman).
 
Pitt has been getting some considerable Oscar buzz for his portrayal of Beane, and the attention isn’t totally unwarranted. Pitt brings a tremendous nervous energy to Beane’s mannerisms that makes him undeniably fun to watch. While letting Hill and Pitt bounce off each other for extended periods of time may not sound like the best idea on paper, the two have a certain chemistry that makes for some very big laughs and their scenes are among the film’s highlights.

Unfortunately, almost everything else about the film is simply different levels of underwhelming. Many of the supporting characters are underused, especially Hoffman’s manager, who seems to exist solely to make Billy throw things and Chris Pratt as a down-on-his-luck player given a second chance. Hoffman and Pratt are both strong actors, but the script never gives them anything to do and as such, they never get a chance to impress in any significant manner.
 
The rest of the film requires a more-than-cursory knowledge of baseball, since the narrative of “Moneyball” strongly relies on lots and lots of facts related to the game, all of them presented with little to no context. This makes for a somewhat confusing experience for anyone without a relatively thorough knowledge of the game and a frustrating one when we see Beane’s strategy failing with little explanation. There’s no doubt that screenwriters Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian know how to tell a better story than this and their dialogue never dips below serviceable, but the script is all facts and no flavor.
 
Everyone involved in “Moneyball” obviously tries to form a shapeless mass of baseball-related factoids into a compelling story and even succeeds in a few scenes. When the film actually cuts to the baseball field, both in moments of triumph and defeat, things become legitimately compelling, but these moments are few and far between — brief signs of life in what’s mostly a bland regurgitation of baseball statistics. While Pitt and Hill do their best to keep the film interesting, “Moneyball” ultimately isn’t up to the challenge of making its story relatable.

Printed on Friday, September 23, 2011 as: "Technicalities ruin potential of star-studded baseball film."