I thought I might have come out the other side of the Olympics relieved that all that physical extertion was behind me. But no. My number one choice for a dvd over the weekend was Moneyball (Bennett Miller 2011), a sports movie, starring Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Are sports movies the perfect movie genre? I find them hard to beat. I haven’t really tried to break it down (aside from acknowledging a deep and abiding interest in bodies in motion, the emotional terrain of failure and satisfaction of watching salvation narratives). Occasionally I wonder whether the appeal is more primitive: I like competition.
I know next to nothing about baseball but I was gripped from the get-go. Like most good films I had no idea what was going on. Geez I had to concentrate – the detail and terminology were bewildering – but the archetypes and set up were reassuringly familiar; a team in trouble with the odds stacked against them and an obsessive anti social GM (Brad Pitt) at the helm who knows he has to come up with a bold plan. Yawn, right? Actually in Miller's hands it plays fresh.
Anyone with a passing familiarity with Aaron Sorkin’s writing (The West Wing) will know he has a passion for workplaces. In this film, on which he shares a writing credit, he brings an interesting quality to the genre, a deeply anti-individualistic stance. It finds perfect expression in the oddball friendship between Brad Pitt (superb as the embattled GM) and Jonah Hill, the overweight Economics Yale graduate with a stats-mad brain who he hires and mentors. Miller has studied sports films and their conventions and on most counts (team comeraderie, hard training sessions, the despair of losing, an inspirational coach, a sense of the sublime) the film ignores them. Moneyball goes out of its ways to frustrate expectations. The game as it’s played on the field, that’s for the fans. Miller gets inside the business of running a team: the rabbit waren of offices, ageing in-door gyms, cramped offices and small tv monitors. It’s a relentlessly tense film in many respects but its one moment of respite, Pitt’s 12 year old daughter Elizabeth (Tammy Blanchard) singing The Show (originally sung by Lenka) while strumming a guitar in an Oakland music shop is a scene of unexpected poetry.