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Gets to third base – ★★★

Isn’t it a pity that every new Brad Pitt movie just gets marketed as “the new Brad Pitt movie”. When you’re a star like him you’re not really allowed average movies.

Considering the duds that Tom Cruise and Johnny Depp have been in recently (I’m looking at you Knight & Day and The Tourist), the only other person really worthy of being in Pitt’s company these days is Leonardo DiCaprio. Thankfully neither of these two guys tend to disappoint very often – not since 2004’s Troy have I felt bad after spending two hours with the man my mother simply calls Braaad.

And thankfully Moneyball doesn’t buck the trend. It’s a safe choice for him, but you can also see the attraction of the role. A small scale sports movie about an under-dog baseball general manager who throws the scout reports out the window and hires a Princeton economic graduate by the name of Peter Brand, played against type by Jonah Hill, as his assistant to work out a statistics-based approach to show players give them the most bang for their buck. Unsurprisingly their wacky double act starts off badly but, over time, the players gel and the Oakland Athletics go on a remarkable run on a remarkably low budget.

As a word of warning, baseball is the only North American sport I have no time for. I don’t understand it and the games seem to go on for hours and hours. The crowds seem more interested in hotdogs and beer than the pedestrian pace of the stop-start game of rounders taking place on the field in front of them. Now of course I’m being deliberately facetious and provocative, but even the most ardent baseball fan knows it’s as much about the romance and psychology as it is the actual “action”, and for a newcomer that’s a damn tough nut to crack.

Moneyball sensibly doesn’t spend too long trying to explain the game to plebs like me, and instead plays the romance and psychology card to great effect. The team’s manager, an under-used Philip Seymour Hoffman, is against the revolution but slowly he, and the players, come around to this new way of thinking and with the help of a few well-edited montages (a pre-requisite of all sports movies), things turn around.

Just like Inglourious Basterds, Brad Pitt does lots of weird gurning, but is starting to take much more age-appropriate work for a man approaching fifty. Feeling much like a role Robert Redford would have taken on twenty years ago, Billy Beane’s broken marriage and the strain of keeping his job and having to keep his daughter on side suits him and while he’s never pushing himself, he is always incredibly watchable.

But the one performance which really caught my eye was Jonah Hill in a rare straight-man showing. After showing he was more than a funny man in the Duplass brothers’ Cyrus last year, he takes it to another level here.

So what’s not to like? Well, it all just feels incredibly “functional”. Capote-director Bennett Miller has had six years to make this something really special and this turns out to be anything but. Inception cinematographer Wally Pfister is onboard in a rare non-Christopher Nolan D.P. job, but there’s absolutely nothing visually striking or arresting here. A fellow 2011 oscar winner Aaron Sorkin co-wrote the screenplay but Moneyball’s pacing, dialogue or plot was pedestrian at best with there being no real need for a 133 minute running time.

But none of this takes away from what is a damn enjoyable sports flick. One of these days Brad Pitt has got to make another turkey…

A Robert Redford-esque Braaad surveys a field of some sort.

 Bennett Miller  /   Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin  /  Starring: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright  /  133 min  /  Drama, Sports   / Release:  23 September (US/Canada), 25 November 2011 (UK/IRL)