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Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Case Against Brad Pitt

I never thought my screening of "Moneyball" last night would surpass the real life drama provided by The Red Sox and Rays Wednesday night.  I did however expect it to engage me, and maybe provide a glimpse as to what the Oscar season had in store.

Should this be the early front runner, and judging by the many in attendance last night it appears it is, the winter might be bleak.

Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane, the beleaguered General Manager of the baseball Oakland A's.  Beane, a former top draft pick and eventual bust, allowed writer Michael Lewis unprecedented access to his team during the 2002 season.  It was a turning point in baseball.  The disparity between big and small market teams was growing wider.  The A's had just been eliminated by the Yankees in a 2001 playoff series which Lewis (and here filmmaker Bennett Miller) are quick to remind you pitted payrolls of $170 million against $38 million.

That the series went to 5 games or that the A's had made it to the playoffs at all was remarkable.  But how can a team compete on the field when the rules off of it are so unfair?

For Beane, it would have to be re-thinking the game.   With help from an unlikely hero, ivy league economics scholar Peter Brand (Paul Depodesta in real life-the only real figure that did not allow himself to be represented in the movie) Beane starts to import statistical analysis in an effort to find "winning" players.  If he cannot outspend them he must outsmart them.

The formulas are based on Bill James "sabermetrics."  The theory simply states (through very complex codes and advanced math) that players who get on base should be most coveted.  Teams should never bunt because you never want to surrender outs.  You should never steal.  There are more...  but mainly go score more runs than your opponent.

Like any company or institution Beane met some resistance when he tried to re-invent the wheel.  His antiquated scouting team thinks his formulas are nonsense.  His players at first act selfish and aloof.  His manager (Philip Seymour Hoffman as Art Howe... WEIRD!!!) fights him on every decision.  Oh, and his daughter (from a previous marriage) is wondering about his job status and overall health.

I can't use this line much since I have rarely read a book that was made into a movie...  but the book is FAR better.  I was trying to think of the last adaptation of a book I read was and I am fairly certain it was "Where the Wild Things Are."  Funny that Spike Jonze made that awful and depressing film and appears here in "Moneyball" as Beane's ex-wife's new-age husband.

When I read Lewis' book several years ago I devoured it and found each page compelling, informative and entertaining.  I never thought it could be made into a movie.

Turns out it can't.  Not here anyway.  And although I think director Bennett Miller should take some share of the blame, it is Mr Pitt that ultimately fails.  There was a debate earlier in the week on Howard Stern where his sidekick Robin Quivers questioned whether Pitt was indeed a movie star?

What films has he ever been in that you were blown away by his LEADING performance.  I understand his roles in "Thelma and Louis", "Interview for a Vampire," "12 Monkeys," "Fight Club," and my favorite "A River Runs Through it" were all well done.  His "Benjamin Button" and "Inglorious Basterds" propelled him to leading man stratosphere.  But in those films, like all others, his "acting" did not dominate the films.  He is a product of great talent around him that, if anything, show Pitt's flaws.

In "Moneyball" it is the Brad Pitt show.  Maybe not since Tom Hanks "Castaway" has a leading man been on screen more.  And at an unmanageable 2 hours and 6 minutes this does Pitt in.  He is all facial ticks and hands to face.  He is hushed tones and brooding looks.  He is, like Beane's playing career, very much out of his league.

So, when he turns down $12.5 million dollars from Boston to become their General Manager at the end of the movie, I felt no sympathy or understanding from the man.  I felt he was a giant loser who missed out on the big picture.  Of course the Red Sox would go on to win their first World Series two years after he declined their offer.  "I made a decision once based on money and vowed never to do it again" he says toward the end of the film.

Yeah, you were 17 and did not know better.  You didn't have a kid and one of the coolest jobs in America. Get over it!!!

I did not say that when I read Lewis' account when he recounted Beane's decision.  Then I understood a more sympathetic, sincere and earnest Beane trying to out-class the big boys by deconstructing their aged "rules."  It was underdog versus Evil Empire.  I can get behind that story all day long.

The film is full of slow transitions, moments of silence, and Pitt.  Pitt working out in the stadium gym.  Pitt driving his pick-up truck along the Oakland Port.  Pitt sitting in meetings and making phone calls.

Pitt boring the hell out of me.

And ladies, to make matters worse, he ain't looking like "Thelma and Lousie" Pitt anymore.

I can only hope the postseason provides greater drama.  The bar is low.

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