After exploring Brad Pitt’s back catalogue in the early noughties it appears that the Academy’s love affair with the movie star is continuing into the next decade. However, as Brad grows up, so does the films he stars in and this post deals with two very different dramas that he had a hand in.
We commence with Moneyball, in which Pitt plays Billy Beane, the General Manager to the Oakland Athletics Baseball Team. The film follows the fortunes of Beane as he attempts to construct a new team on a small budget after the departure of his three top players. Instead of listening to his more experienced scouts, Billy decides to follow the advice of Peter Brand a young Yale graduate who he meets at one of the other clubs. Peter’s philosophy involves looking at the runs that each player has acquired over a season and working out how each game should be played. As a result of Peter’s theory, Billy finds a team for a budget he can afford even though each player has some major flaw whether it be a bad attitude, a lack of confidence or that they’re just over-the-hill. Though Moneyball does follow the format of sports films I’ve watched it the past, what makes it work is its fast-paced script. Based on the book of the same name by Michael Lewis, Moneyball has been adapted by the master that is Aaron Sorkin alongside Steve Zaillian. Moneyball does include a lot of dialogue that is pure Sorkin, as Billy and Peter banter back and forth in expert style. Sorkin and Zaillian deftly weave the story of Oakland’s 2002 season with Billy’s back story in which we learn that he himself was a first draft pick. Unfortunately, Billy suffered from a lack of confidence and later decided that being a scout would be a better role for him than on the pitch. I feel that these flashback scenes make us sympathise more with the character of Billy and we’re willing him to succeed as Oakland starts to make a comeback later in the season. If I have one qualm about the script then it’s the quite clichéd relationship that Billy has with his twelve-year-old daughter which is basically a set up to the final scene in the film.
Alongside the fabulous script, Moneyball’s other ace in the hole is Brad Pitt whose performance in the film is great. I believe that Moneyball ushers in a shift in the tone of Pitt’s performances as he adds an extra layer of maturity to the character of Billy. This is best exemplified during the scenes in which Billy is listening to the games being played as he never attends the games mainly due to superstition. Pitt earned his second Best Actor nomination for Moneyball and I have to say that it was a lot more deserved than his previous nod for Benjamin Button. While in that film the make-up did most of the work, Moneyball’s realistic feel allows Pitt to be front and centre. Also worthy of praise is Jonah Hill, who left the world of frat boy comedy behind to play the slightly nervous Peter Brand. Hill never played his role for laughs and instead his character formed an awkward relationship both with Billy and the players. Hill’s Supporting Actor nomination should have been a turning point in his career but unfortunately he followed this up with the woeful comedy The Sitter. Despite him not having a major role as Oakland’s manager Art, Philip Seymour Hoffman still gets to showcase his major skills in a number of scenes. I believe part of the reason Hoffman appears in the film is because it reunites him with Capote director Bennett Miller. Just like in Capote, Miller proves himself to be a solid director as he weaves an easy-to-follow narrative with some brilliant scenes of each individual game. Despite acquiring six nominations at that year’s Oscar ceremony, Moneyball ultimately went home empty-handed which I feel is a shame especially for Sorkin and Zaillian. Although I have seen Moneyball before I definitely enjoyed it more this second time around and I feel that it’s a solidly enjoyable drama which is bolstered by two fine performances by Hill and Pitt.