FILM REVIEW: Moneyball (12A)

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In the sporting arena, money doesn’t just talk, it chatters incessantly.

Success is measured by financial worth, creating an uneven playing field.

The best teams get richer by continually feeding off their smaller rivals until it becomes almost impossible to bridge the divide.

This was the situation facing Billy Beane, the general manager of Oakland Athletics, in 2001 when his team lost the showpiece final game of the season to the mighty New York Yankees.

With the taste of defeat still bitter in his mouth, Beane watched helplessly as bigger teams pilfered three of his star players - Damon, Giambi and Isringhausen - leaving him to rebuild the team on a third of their payroll.

Painfully aware he couldn’t compete on an equal footing with the big boys, Beane defied conventional wisdom and challenged the fundamental tenets of the game.

Moneyball is an inspirational drama that celebrates Beane’s tenacity in the face of stinging criticism, inspiring his minnows to completely change the way baseball is played through unity, self-belief and a smattering of luck.

Director Bennett Miller opens his film at the end of the 2001 season with Oakland suffering that bruising loss to the Yankees.

Billy (Brad Pitt) goes cap in hand to the team’s owner for more funds but his request is denied: “Don’t spend money I don’t have!”

As Billy searches for a solution, he crosses paths with Yale-educated economist Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), who believes in analysing data to make crucial decisions.

Together, Billy and Peter compile a list of the most undervalued players in the league and bring together this band of misfits and rejects as the new face of the squad.

Gruff team manager Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman) scoffs at the plan, as do members of the old guard.

“You can’t put a team together with a computer. Baseball just isn’t numbers,” argues one adviser.

The season begins with a series of crushing defeats, heaping pressure on Billy and Peter, until the tide turns and miraculously, the A’s embark on the longest winning streak in the sport’s history.

Moneyball is a classic tale of triumph against adversity but the script, co-written by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, doesn’t lazily regurgitate cliches of the genre.

The film might set up a classic feelgood resolution but Miller’s piece is smarter than that, laden with snappy dialogue and richly detailed characters.

Pitt impresses as a family man bucking the trend while Hill foregoes his usual comedy shtick to demonstrate his dramatic range as the number cruncher invited into the inner sanctum.

Archive footage of the A’s remarkable season is melded with fiction, giving us a rousing insight into how a bold theory became spectacular reality.

By Damon Smith

:: SWEARING :: NO SEX :: VIOLENCE :: RATING: 7.5/10

Released: November 25 (UK & Ireland), 133 mins