I am a sucker for a great screenplay. Just like the characters in Moneyball, who can’t help getting sucked into the romance of the game, I couldn’t help getting sucked into this crackerjack tale from top screenwriters Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian (working from a book by the great non-fiction writer Michael Lewis).
The movie, hilariously, has an “A Film By” credit for the director, whose greatest contribution was to get out of the way of the script and the actors. Bennett Miller has directed exactly one other feature fiction film: Capote. Six years ago. I don’t think anyone should take the ego-stroking “A Film By” credit. But if you’re going to let someone have it, it should be earned through a long and distinguished career.
Speaking of humor… Moneyball is not a comedy, but it is the funniest film I have seen this year. Brad Pitt’s strong sense of comic timing has been underutilized in all but a few films (Burn After Reading), and I enjoy Jonah Hill in his more under-stated mode (Cyrus). Philip Seymour Hoffman can also be quite good, but this film gives him more chances to snarl than to evince chuckles.
Moneyball is a baseball movie for people who aren’t baseball fans. It says that the way to win is through money, and the wise spending therof. Not through homeruns, stealing bases, clever strategy or any other classical reason celebrated in sports films of yore. And even though disciplined analysis of statistics through the use of economic principles is the “hero” of the film, I wouldn’t recommend the film to economists. Economists would rightly point out the statistical fluke of the Oakland A’s season. N=1 is not a good sample size.
I did not like the way Brad Pitt’s Billy Beane lied to his daughter about there being no reason to worry. There was indeed good reason to worry that past performance does not imply future success. And shouldn’t he have been worried that his daughter time-traveled to 2008 to bring back Lenka’s hit song “The Show”?
Well, let’s put aside the minor league objections. In the end, this is a perfect film for our present economy. Can we succeed with limited resources? With intelligence and pugnacity, the film inspires us to reply, “Yes, 100%!”
An actual economist reacts to the film: “They throw in a lot, and it often felt clumsy. Sometimes the dialogue even speechifies. But many of the topics touched are topics usually far beyond the reach of a movie, so it strikes as very original. The whole is remarkably bold.”
Do not take anyone to Drive who can’t abide violence or silence. I have to think that Ryan Gosling, who plays the laconic protagonist of the film, was playing a game of how long he could wait before opening his mouth in any given conversation. As with director Nicolas Winding Refn’s earlier film Bronson, the long pauses are provide a dynamic counterpoint to spasms of ultraviolence.
In a movie called Drive, where the main character has a seemingly supernatural connection to four-wheeled vehicles, I would have liked just one more car chase. But Drive otherwise delivers the stylish late ’70’s/early ’80’s throwback genre action it promises. Odd casting choices, like Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman as Jewish gangsters, turn out to be inspired. I love Carey Mulligan, but she is too intelligent and pixie-ish to play the vulnerable mom-in-distress. Perhaps the best element of the film is the unorthodox score by Cliff Martinez.
The screenplay, by Hossein Amini from a book by James Sallis, is a great example of how a protagonist need not have an actual backstory, so long as the existence of the backstory is strongly implied. Where did the Driver come from? What’s with his golden scorpion jacket? What’s with the neon pink cursive title design? Drive laps circles around the mysteries, even as it refuses to answer them.