If it's crap ... We'll tell you
Brad Pitt sure has come a long way since his breakthrough role in Thelma & Louise! He's had to overcome the prejudices set against him and prove his real worth as an actor just because he was the "prettiest boy" in town and by doing so, he's managed to solidify himself as one of Hollywood's most iconic film actors in its history. While he's captured the eyes and hearts of women worldwide with his roles in Interview with the Vampire, Legends of the Fall, Meet Joe Black, Troy, and Mr. and Mrs. Smith, over time he's managed to become a leader for men in the audience and the young men coming up in Hollywood with his more daring roles in True Romance, Se7en, Fight Club, 12 Monkeys, Snatch, and Inglourious Basterds. It seems now with the movies he's starring in with The Tree of Life and this film this year that we may be seeing a new phase in this man's career that will further enrich him as one of the finest actors around. When people started to compare him to Robert Redford when they starred in Spy Game, they weren't far off because Brad Pitt in this film has fully proven that fact.
The most wonderful thing in my mind about this film is that like George Clooney before him, Brad's realizing that he's getting older and that he's not the smoothest and prettiest face on the block and he's using that to his benefit when it comes to the choices he makes now about the roles he's picking (even though for a guy who's almost 50, he's aged very well). His performance may be very subtle especially compared to his other performances in the past but that's what makes him work in this movie and I think that his performance and the relevance of this performance to his career is what elevates this movie above and beyond most sports movies nowadays. It seems like this year he's chosen very wisely between this and working with Terrence Malick by replacing Heath Ledger in Tree of Life to really remind us that he's really here to stay for the many generations to follow until he ultimately dies but even then, he'll still be influencing how young actors forge their own careers to make themselves last. The question of whether Pitt will get nominated or recognized finally for either this or Tree of Life is still sketchy at this point because unless something drastic happens, the Academy doesn't like to give awards to the talented "pretty boy" actors.
But Brad Pitt isn't the only actor here to write home about because everybody in this film excels but just in ways you wouldn't necessarily expect because the script doesn't require them to make more flashy performances. These performances are as grounded as they can be. Jonah Hill turns in a very restrained and charismatic performance because not only is he playing a different character than he's ever played before but every word he says is captivating and intriguing to listen to because he's obviously playing a genius who knows all about the numbers and how things systematically work in the world and his chemistry with Brad Pitt is one of the best I've ever seen because it seems like a rare marriage. They both compliment each other and each man makes up for what the other lacks with their own personal strengths and while it is kind of a clichéd use of words, it is their unlikeliness of pairing up that makes them such great partners on screen when it came to them as actors and their characters. One thing that I noticed that will make this movie stick around is that it's like The Social Network (oddly enough since both films share screenwriter Aaron Sorkin) where it's a modern story about something revolutionary happening to the world in a particular field yet it still carries over traditional or even ancient storytelling themes that will make it last and make it accessible to anyone who watches it even though they may not be tech-friendly or that much into sports. In the film, Billy Beane played by Brad Pitt comes across in one scene as very Socratic in his methods of interacting with the rest of the world and operating within the system that's he fixed himself in which explains the desire to challenge the fundamental beliefs that had already been established in baseball and that's what makes his character so fascinating to watch because he's still carrying ancient yet effective ways at operating within the world around him even though most people miss what he's trying to do. The same thing goes for Jonah Hill's Peter Brand who in some way could be the Plato of this story as he's taken in and mentored under Billy Beane in his goal to try and reinvent an old system. What's odd enough is that out of the corner of my eye in a scene that involves showing Peter Brand in his apartment, there is a poster of Plato on the wall and since his character studied economics at Yale, it wouldn't surprise me and I think that this philosophical metaphor could be extended to Billy Beane representing the empirical way of thinking and Peter Brand representing the rational way of thinking and how people could use both parts of an individual's mind to accomplish anything in this life even though it may be misunderstood by many while you're making a difference in the world like these two characters did in the film.
So besides the perfect pairing of Pitt and Hill, everybody else delivers in the acting department and everyone plays their roles as real as they probably would be in real life. Philip Seymour Hoffman makes Art Howe a guy that can be very divisive on how audiences feel about him. You can definitely see his point of view on why he thinks what Beane is doing is crazy and just doomed to fail but the way he tries to tell him this is almost antagonistic without ever trying to be or actually coming out and saying it. Chris Pratt, Casey Bond, Stephen Bishop, Royce Clayton, and David Hutchison all lend an extra dimension to the movie despite the fact that the Oakland A's (Athletics) baseball team's story isn't as explored as the men behind the team. Every person on that team is considered an outcast in the traditional sense of playing professional baseball but their heart and camaraderie is what's shown best by the actors and that's what further enriches the movie beside all the systematic numbers and thinking that goes into choosing them as the team to take on the world. Even if you might not necessarily feel the heart coming from the team, the subplot between Billy Beane and his daughter Tara, played by Kathryn Morris, lends the audience an emotional connection to the story that's actually very subtle, well done, and touching. What's also relieving to me about this movie is that even the ex-wife character played by Robin Wright is done in a very unconventional manner where she isn't this bitter, raging, man-hating woman. She actually seems real and it shows that sometimes ex-couples can get along as much as they can get along after a separation.
Even though the movie is roughly 2 hours and 20 minutes long, the movie's directed so well in Bennett Miller's hands and the script is so sharply written by Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian that it never feels like time is being wasted. For some people, it's going to feel slow because most of the middle is for the most part about developing the characters and executing the plot as it prepares for it's brilliant, real, and unorthodox ending that feels very much like how this situation would have played out in the real story of this real life event with Beane and the Oakland A's. Another thing to note is that Wally Pfister's cinematography in this film is gorgeous as always and he really makes the games come to life on the screen especially when it's being played on a huge digital screen.
All in all, this movie is a baseball movie that's very much about the mechanics of how it works but it's never boring to therefore make the people who aren't sports fans turn away. The cast does great work, the writing is smart, the story is fascinating and compelling at the same time, and not only does it make for a redefining film for Jonah Hill's career but it reinforces the fact that Brad Pitt is still one of the great actors of today and that he has a good chance of becoming one of the all time great actors in the future stronger than anything else ever has. It's definitely one of the best movies of this year and if you miss it, then you're a complete fool because there's so much in the movie for anyone to enjoy which will make it a great crowd pleaser. P.S. The way that they used "The Mighty Rio Grande" by This Will Destroy You as a musical theme throughout the movie was such a masterstroke of genius that you really need to see it in a big theatre with digital speakers and projection in order to get the full effect of how it really amplifies the movie to a whole other level!
Rating: Full Price!!