TIFF 2011: ‘Moneyball’ is a decent sports drama, nothing more

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Moneyball

Written by Steve Zailian and Aaron Sorkin

Directed by Bennett Miller

USA, 2011

As far as sports go, for whatever reason I’ve never found myself able to watch baseball for prolonged periods of time. Yet when it comes to the world of sports films, I’ve always found myself drawn more towards the ones concerning that very one. And Moneyball is yet another title to add to the pantheon of baseball films that manage to entertain, but not wildly so.

As a whole, the story offers no real surprises. This is partly due to it being based in truth, partly due to that truth being turned into a book and partly due to it being fairly predictable, even if you’re unaware of the story behind it. But a solid script from Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List) and Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network), coupled with competent direction from Bennett Miller (Capote), helps the film rise a notch or two above the typical underdog story. Overall, it’s a ride that we’ve taken before. But it was a nice ride then, and it’s certainly a nice ride now.

Though you really can’t help but wonder what Moneyball would be like if they had infused it with a bit more of the punch that both the writers and director have had in their previous projects. Granted, it wasn’t a story that necessarily called for the vast amounts of emotion and turmoil that they’ve played around with, but even the briefest look at their filmographies says that they’re not afraid to take bolder chances.  As it stands, Moneyball is absolutely fine, but also incredibly safe. And maybe that’s not a problem as much as it is an observation.

As far as the cast goes, nobody really goes above and beyond, though that isn’t to say the performances are weak. The most surprising one of the bunch must has to come from Jonah Hill, who casts off the associations placed on him after Superbad to portray a much more soft-spoken, fairly serious (with the exception of a few moments here and there) and very intelligent character. As for Brad Pitt, well…he’s Brad Pitt. However, that’s not a bad thing, and for the most part he’s always a welcomed presence on the screen, and Moneyball is no different. He is very much a leading man, and he leads this film as well as he does any other.

But as solid as the cast may be, they can’t do much to save a lagging second act. Miller is no stranger to films with slower pacing (Capote is a testament to this), and Moneyball seems to get progressively slower as it goes. By the time the regular season starts up, the pace really drags. The story and character keeps eyes to the screen, but unfortunately it also helps bring a rise in clock-watching, and you start wishing that Pitt and Hill’s grand idea would get a start already. Thankfully, it does, and things pick up again. But that lull right smack-dab in the middle is a serious blemish. If Miller is making consciously making these choices, then more power to him. But he should really learn to pick his battles.

In the end, Moneyball is a decent sports drama. Baseball fans will be into it, non-baseball fans can probably find something to enjoy about it, too.  But if you’re a fan or Aaron Sorkin, Steven Zaillian, or Bennett Miller, be warned: they do an admirable job with their respective duties but don’t quite go above and beyond.  It doesn’t do anything new, and it might not even be one that stays with you long after it’s over, but that’s not such a bad thing as long as it does its job.

William Bitterman

The Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 8th to the 18th. Tickets, schedules, and other information can be found on the festival’s website.

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