MONEYBALL: Can sports neophytes like this film?
Are you about to saunter leisurely into this Bennett Miller blockbuster, as thousands of Americans have done already? Should you have even an ounce of baseball knowledge before seeing a film about baseball strategy? Well, maybe. It ain’t ANY GIVEN SUNDAY (Oliver Stone, 1999), a family drama that requires only the most basic understanding of football. MONEYBALL is slightly different. Watching Brad Pitt act his heart out as Billy Beane, the manager of the Oakland A’s, is much more satisfying if you understand how and why players are traded and the ingrained culture that preceded Beane and his Assistant GM’s innovative method for evaluating undervalued players. But are there other factors at work to keep you engaged just in case you’re a baseball-ignorant heathen? Yes.
One: Miller uniquely dramatizes information. The movie is more or less about stats, and Miller’s camera gazes upon numbers with love. These are some beautiful numbers. We see their nuanced color, the elegant shape of their design, full blown and staring at us from close-ups of computer screens. Numbers that should be as jagged as the pixels they’re made of are instead rounded and elegant (he’s cheating here).
Two: Miller keeps us close to Pitt. This is a good thing. Not so much because his character arcs in a particularly rousing way, but what he’s doing with his voice and eyes is something really new for Pitt. His walk is subtle and affective (the gait of a former professional athlete) and his voice is deeper and steeped in a strange vernacular that seems unique to Beane. And his eyes, well, Brad Pitt’s eyes have a quality all their own, but Miller and DP Wally Pfister photograph them very closely, almost in the same way the digital numbers are shot, hinting at their potential for both tremendous success and devastating loss.