Nominated for no less than six Oscars I can see why the Academy warmed to this: Based on a true story. Tick. Plucky underdog. Tick. Triumph in the face of adversity. Tick. And also penned by not one but two Oscar-winning writers (Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian).
Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) is the general manager of the Oakland Athletics. The team has a fraction of the budget of the bigger sides. One such team, the New York Yankees soundly beat them early on in the film. Beane hooks up with Yale graduate and player analyst Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) who has some progressive ideas about the game. The team they put together for the new season – within their budget - is a misfit bunch of cheap players. Together, these undervalued players, according to Brand’s numbers, have the means to beat teams with big expensive stars.
Good performances, sharp dialogue and assured direction hide some serious flaws in this film. The main problem is that it’s incredibly dull. (Beane has a superstition about watching games so, basically, he doesn’t.) A recurring line in the film is, “it’s hard not to be romantic about baseball” and I have to agree. It strikes me as an elegant sport and clearly one that is cinematic. So it’s a crying shame we see so little of it. Even when the team starts to win director Bennett Miller denies us any opportunity to relish the glory. Instead we see a lot of extreme close-ups of pixelated statistics, and interiors of the
A’s dingy offices. The key players are underwritten and none of them seem to have any kind of character arc. While there are some good scenes – with authentic performers having authentic conversations – none of them are great. The script is completely style over substance. One example sees Beane and Brand buying and selling players as the transfer deadline approaches. It’s a fun scene: the dialogue is bandied around at Sorkian warp speed as they field a bunch of calls, and cut some killer deals in a short space of time. But they are discussing players we have barely been introduced to (that they are selling) and ones we have not yet heard of (that they are buying). It’s hard to get excited by any of this. Oakland
It is a fascinating story, though, and the subject matter should just about hold anyone’s attention. It’s not exactly bad but it is overrated. On paper the film is certainly Oscar bait but it is distinctly lacking in a number of areas. Its current omnipresence in awards races (over far worthier omissions) can only be explained by the pedigree of the talent involved.