Friday, 2 December 2011


'What are you really worth' 

As most of you will know by now, the sports film has become one of my favourite genres in recent times with plenty of them that would easily make my Top 100 of all time (in fact one of them is in my Top 10), but never have I seen a film which focuses on the strategic side of things until now. After making the vastly overrated Capote (2005), director Bennett Miller returns to critical success thanks to the help of Hollywood superstar Brad Pitt with this impressive and informative film that documents one baseball team's roller-coaster ride of a journey which sees their flaws exposed only to turn it all round with unlikely success. Though us Brits aren't too familiar with baseball we learn a lot about the sport a masterful script which teaches us a lot of things regarding the sport....

 After the disappointment of losing the final game of their season, the Oakland 'A's baseball team suffer the loss of three key players who transfer to wealthier teams in the run-up to the 2002 season much to the frustration of General Manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) who grows tired with the old traditional ways of the game he has spent his life committed to. Things change though when he encounters geeky Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a Yale, economics graduate who believes he has a system to rating players based on sufficient date. The two men begin trading and building up the team based on stats leaving various staff including coach Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman) bemused by the new system. Initially though, the system struggles to work straight away with a bad run of results causing general frustration amongst those involved with Oakland. But when a couple more key signings come in, the team begin to overcome the odds when results start going their way, leading to an extraordinary run that surpasses one of baseball's greatest records and proving to many critics that the system CAN work....

As a fan of sporting statistics through my commitments to football and cricket, I was fascinated by the structured story laid out and thanks to the sharp script from Social Network's Aaron Sorkin, we, like Billy, have the system explained to us by Peter who breaks it down more for us so everybody on screen and in the seats is on the same page, and lets more people understand baseball a bit more (especially us Brits). The script itself is well written and provides plenty of energetic dialogue particularly when Pitt uses it to make us admire his character more. In another daring move, the film takes viewers off the field and focuses most of the action behind-the-scenes, with the actual games placed in effective and well-edited montages that link up with real footage and reconstructions. Pitt leads the film with lots of charge and giving one of his best performances as we see the ups and downs of Beane's reign at the club. On the outside we see Billy as normal and calm yet when he is alone we can see pain and frustration. Surprisingly just as good is Jonah Hill, normally playing the dopey, teenage roles in films like Superbad, who gives a stellar performance as the intelligent stats man proving that he shouldn't be restricted to doing teen comedy. Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Robin Wright also lend accepted support though they are both criminally underused but really it's all about Pitt and Hill.

Many British audiences are not too aware of baseball and if they were, they probably will feel a little frustrated with the lack of focus on the actual games and choosing to look more behind the scenes instead which drags at times. Though then again you have to wonder what the Americans thought when they watched The Damned United with both sides of the Atlantic trading their sports as presented on the big screen. This also lacks a little intensity compared to other popular baseball films like The Natural (1984) and Field of Dreams (1989) and I must admit I was more captivated by a different type of sports film from earlier this year which gave a bigger emotional backdrop of character development in Warrior (2011).

VERDICT: It probably won't attract enough British audiences given the sport on screen, but overall it is a home run for proper fans of the sport as it educates us with plenty of information thanks to a sizzling script and an unlikely winning partnership of performances from Pitt and Hill. And that's the game!


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