‘Moneyball’ scores big with film critics

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If the new baseball film ‘Moneyball’ offers an unconventional take on the sports movie — America’s pastime meets Microsoft Excel, essentially — it does boast a heavy hitter in lead actor Brad Pitt, bestselling source material in the Michael Lewis book of the same name and a script polished by ‘The Social Network’ scribe Aaron Sorkin. The resulting film is a hit with critics — somewhere between a triple and a walk-off home run, for those keeping score.

Times film critic Kenneth Turan calls the film ‘impressive and surprising.’ It is, Turan writes, ‘that rare sports movie that doesn’t end with a rousing last-second victory or a come-from-behind celebration.’ Turan praises Bennett Miller’s understated direction, Jonah Hill and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s well-tuned supporting roles, and a strong screenplay (co-written by Sorkin and Steven Zaillian, with story by Stan Chervin). Leading the way is Pitt as Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane: ‘This is low-key star power at its best.’


Joe Morgenstern penned a rave review in the Wall Street Journal, writing that ‘just about every scene in the film crackles with intelligence, brittle humor and edgy conflict.’ Miller, he says, ‘now takes his place in the first rank of American directors,’ and cinematographer Wally Pfister (an Oscar winner last year for his work on ‘Inception’) ‘works stylishly but unobtrusively.’ Morgenstern sums up ‘Moneyball’ as ‘a deeply American film about a uniquely American sport in which a principled guy takes on the moneyed titans because he can’t stand the unfairness of what they’re doing to the game he still loves.’

The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis views ‘Moneyball’ as ‘a movie about baseball in the digital age.’ Though Miller occasionally overreaches (with gratuitous close-ups of Pitt looking contemplative, or sweeping overhead shots), Dargis credits his handling of potentially drab subject matter: ‘Mr. Miller, largely shaking off the official art-house pretensions of his breakout feature, ‘Capote,’ takes all this seemingly dry, dusty, inside-baseball stuff and turns it into the kind of all-too-rare pleasurable Hollywood diversion that gives you a contact high.’

In a review for Time, Richard Corliss applauds Pitt and makes a bold prediction: '[Pitt] does sensational work. At ease in Beane’s skin, he exudes pure movie-star authority by walking into a room, juggling phone calls from rivals GMs, playing Svengali or Caligula or your understanding dad.… His performance is a canny portrait of leadership — part genius, part crazy guts, part dumb luck — and worthy of moving Pitt up to the playoff round of Oscar finalists for Best Actor. We’d put money on it.’

It’s almost difficult to find an unfavorable review, at least on this side of the Atlantic. But Catherine Shoard, in the Guardian, says, ‘Those who enter the cinema unstirred by either the sport or by the joys of stats are unlikely to come out converts.’ Shoard adds, ' ‘Moneyball’ fails to deliver any thesis on whether or not people can be condensed to data’ and ‘has all the subtle touch of a baseball mitt.’

As any ballplayer or statistician will tell you, you can’t win ‘em all.


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-- Oliver Gettell