By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood September 10, 2011 at 10:25AM
The movie I was most looking forward to seeing at Toronto, based on the source material (Michael Lewis's baseball Oakland As expose) and talent involved (Bennett Miller directing a script by Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zaillian and stars Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill) was Moneyball (September 23). And while the movie has its lags and lulls--like baseball--I was not disappointed. In fact the movie is more naturalistic and lackadaisical than I was expecting. Miller allows his actors--especially great reactor Hill--and the game, to breathe. Pitt is easygoing and comfortable in the role of Oakland As general manager Billy Beane, and Miller's Oscar-winning Capote star Philip Seymour Hoffman is perfect as the taciturn As manager who stubbornly uses the players he chooses--until Beane just as firmly takes them away from him.
I am a student of baseball, but the movie isn't about the love of the game as much as adapting to change, and sticking to your guns, and not letting conventional wisdom get the better of you. The film's rebellious anti-establishment story arc should make it a populist crowd-pleaser. I bet it does well with audiences, even if it isn't as much of an Academy ticket as, say, The Tree of Life, also starring Pitt. But his good reviews for Moneyball should help him win votes for the Terrence Malick film.
A sampling of reviews below; it's trending at 86% on Rotten Tomatoes.
"The movie does achieve something nearly impossible: Someone who doesn’t even like the sport may care about Billy Beane and the 2002 Oakland Athletics,..The scenes between Pitt and Hill are all delights as they struggle to find a working language and then a means to impose their newfound will on the most tradition-minded of sports. It’s a great comedy act, with Pitt insisting that Hill complete his thoughts or amplify their concepts to the slack-jawed baseball scouts."
"Throwing the conventional sports-movie formula a curve, Moneyball defies the logic that auds need a rousing third-act championship to clinch their interest. Instead, writers Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin resurrect the old adage 'It's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game' to drive this uncannily sharp, penetrating look at how Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane helped reinvent baseball based on statistics rather than near-superstitious thinking. Sparing auds the technicalities but not the spirit of financial reporter Michael Lewis' business-of-baseball bestseller, Moneyball should appeal well beyond -- if not always to -- the game's fans,..While a hopelessly awkward-looking Hill provides fish-out-of-water laughs, Pitt gives a genuinely soul-searching performance. "
"[Pitt] plays Beane with the smooth assurance of Robert Redford or Paul Newman. Baseball movies are hit and miss, but this one is the shrewdest take on the game since Ron Shelton's Bull Durham and it has appeal that reaches beyond the ballpark,..Pitt has never been better,..It's a movie star role and Pitt, one of our last movie stars, fits it like a well-worn glove. Jonah Hill is his perfect counterpoint, deadpanning and underplaying at every turn,..For baseball fans Moneyball is nirvana. For everyone else, it's simply a smart, damned entertaining time at the movies."
"[Pitt] comes across as a bit of a knackered lunk, too vanilla for his struggles to grip in the same way as, say, those of Michael Sheen's Brian Clough in The Damned United – a film with a similar real-life sporting triumph template,..[Hill] delivers a surprisingly affecting performance, shy but not simpering, with a refreshing lack of character arc. It's the sort of turn too rare on screen: unshowy and naturalistic,..Moneyball is more melodramatic than one might expect from the pen of Sorkin (who massaged an earlier draft by Steven Zaillian), gooier in the middle and coshing the audience with emotional wallops."
"The most remarkable thing about Moneyball is just how swiftly it moves along.,..Miller maintains a fluid pace and highlights extraordinary naturalistic moments (many of which involve backroom strategy sessions). He creates a fully believable universe not only dominated by baseball but defined by it,..[Pitt] looks right at home as a nearly over-the-hill dreamer scavenging for the best success route. Hill, whose role might seem like a dubious casting decision based on his existing goofball image, actually works quite well in a noticeably muted (but still comically inspired) role. His deadpan expression is the ideal counterpoint to Pitt’s bubbling enthusiasm for the moneyball game."