(Bennett Miller, 2011)
In the end Miller's film, which scrupulously bends over backwards to avoid all of the cliches of the Sports Movie, all those slow motion turning points and dropped out soundtracks and inspirational music uses and unlikely heroes, in the end it surrenders to the power of those cliches and indulges in just about all of them, and it's a suitably glorious moment and testament to the power of the genre.
Partly it's so satisfying because of the quality of what has gone before. Moneyball takes what seemed like difficult material in Michael Lewis' non-fiction account of how General Manager Billy Beane revolutionised Major League Baseball through a new statistics-led system of player identification; and turns out a smartly middlebrow, just stylish enough adult entertainment.
It works well because Miller and the script by Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin do a fine job with the set-up, wittily explaining the problems faced by Beane and his cash-strapped club, the Oakland Athletics, and just-as-wittily depicting the reasons for and manner of his conversion to a radical new approach. Early on Beane's own character is accounted for, to an extent, by a series of flashbacks, structured like memory fragments, which show his youthful promise and hopes,then detail the painful dwindling into mediocrity of his career. After that the film becomes a story of a radical with a vision and his struggle for acceptance.
The actual baseball footage is brief and snatched until the team reaches a game where it can possibly break a record, and then Miller brings out the cliches and wallows in some suspense and emotion. But generally, he stays focused on character and the intimate drama of this odd industry, aided by a terrific cast.
Brad Pitt plays Beane as confident and relaxed within himself, but with an undertone of disappointment and a slight edge. He indulges in his old trick of always ensuring his character is eating or drinking something - he knows that chewing, spitting and sucking all keep his otherwise immobile face interesting in certain scenes and when he has no foodstuff to work with, he chews on his lips - but this is a rare contemporary role in which he allows the golden boy of old to come out, his natural handsomeness emphasised by big hair and soft lighting. His very attractiveness, that Redfordian thing he's always had, is a big part of his movie star appeal, and it helps make his character here likeable and worth watching.
Jonah Hill and Phillip Seymour Hoffman both excel opposite him, and Miller keeps it all visually diverting enough to make an audience forget the fact that this is a dry, small, arty film about statistics, largely shot in ugly offices and dull locations.