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Moneyball review

A rag-tag gaggle of no-hopers and has-beens fixing their game faces against preposterous odds

Moneyball the movie starts rolling when Beane forms a shrewd alliance with Peter Brand, a composite character made flesh by Jonah Hill. Brand’s a Yale economics grad whose skill at ‘sabermetrics’ – the science of measuring game performance via cold, hard stats – inspires Beane to rebuild the team with undervalued oddballs (the injured, the over-the-hill, the fond-of i smoking-weed) rather than big hitters he can’t afford.

After a rocky start to the 2002 season, this “island of misfit toys” begin to convert all the backroom number-crunching into headline-grabbing success. Take that, conventional wisdom and old-school intuition!

Sorkin and talking

“Would you rather get one shot in the head or five in the chest and bleed to death?” asks Beane, explaining his no-frills approach to firing people. “Are those my only options?” retorts Brand (as ever, Hill aces the deadpan delivery.)

While Zaillian/Sorkin let rip, director Miller keeps a comparatively low profile. Maybe Steven Soderbergh – who departed when Sony put the project on hold – would have injected more split-screen pizzazz, but Miller essays a restraint that benefits the human moments weaved between the ballpark wheeling and dealing. There’s an exquisitely awkward encounter between Beane, his ex-wife (Robin Wright) and her new beau (Spike Jonze).

Does it seem off-key that Casey gets more face-time than most of the Oakland boys we’re meant to be rooting for? (The exception is Chris Pratt as injured catcher turned first-baseman Scott Hatteberg, endearingly fearful that he’s going to get hit by the ball.) Not necessarily. After all, this is Beane’s story, and in downplaying the players the movie cannily mirrors his own sense of professional distance.

As a cast-iron personal rule, Billy never watches the games, and the camera usually stays with him. But instead of getting all navel-gazey about it, Miller grounds Beane’s superstitions in visceral, compulsive behaviour: neurotically flicking the radio on and off, or hitting the gym, hard.

Double whammies

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