Moneyball a winner, Killer Elite mindless, macho

by Mark Burger

If a sports movie doesn’t properly convey the sport it’s about, that movie is likely not going to work.

Moneyball works, because Moneyball knows its baseball— and that’s what this story is all about.

The screen adaptation of Michael Lewis’ bestseller, adapted by no less than Oscar winners Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian, is an intelligent and detailed dramatization of grafting 21st century technology and 21st century thinking onto good oldfashioned baseball, using statistics to determine a player’s—– and, collectively, a team’s — abilities.

Brad Pitt stars as Oakland Athletics’ general manager Billy Beane, desperately trying to field a contending team on a budget far below that of other teams in larger markets (New York, Boston, etc.). As a player himself, Billy never fulfilled the expectations of others — or himself — and a lot of that drives his actions, unorthodox as they sometimes seem.

With the help of Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), Billy implements his unorthodox methodology. The results are immediate and staggering: The A’s get worse. And then, slowly, they get better. A lot better. But, in the end, is that good enough?

The film is not an unequivocal endorsement of “moneyball” itself. Other factors do come into play. It’s not an exact science – as Billy and Peter are painfully made aware in certain instances – yet the techniques they pioneered have been successfully applied other teams since. (The A’s, as baseball fans are surely aware, haven’t won a World Series since 1989).

Nor are Billy and Peter entirely sure of themselves, which lends the story its tension. There is skepticism from without — including A’s manager Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman) — and insecurity from within. No one’s tried this before, and certainly not on this level. Pitt and Hill make an extremely likable duo here, fighting against the tide as underdogs.

The film works best when it focuses on the game. The scenes between Billy and his daughter (Kerris Dorsey) aren’t bad — and young Dorsey is appealing — but they’re also a distraction, and clearly designed to show Billy’s “human” side away from the ballpark. A scene featuring Robin Wright (typically underwhelming) as Billy’s exwife could easily been eliminated. Moneyball runs 135 minutes, and the domestic interludes sometimes interrupt its momentum.

Yet there’s much to like here. The baseball scenes have been seamlessly interwoven with actual game footage, and the portrayal of such well-known players as David Justice (Stephen Bishop), Scott Hatteberg (Chris Pratt) and Jeremy Giambi (Nick Porrazzo), the latter of whom ended up with the Phillies… which is why he gets included here.

Killer Elite is a stylish shoot-’em-up that includes the obligatory line “I’m done with this. I’m finished with this,” as spoken by hardboiled international operative Danny Bryce (Jason Statham) after a particularly bloody incident in the Middle East.

Famous last words. It’s only a matter of time before Danny is dragged back into the fold, punching and shooting as opposed to kicking and screaming (although kicking is involved). His friend and mentor, the aptly-named Hunter (Robert De Niro), is being held captive by a sinister sheik (Rodney Afif) and will be murdered unless Danny carries out a series of assassinations on his behalf.

What’s a tough, hard-boiled guy to do, except acquiesce?

In keeping with the style of the film, Statham plays it tough and cool (undoubtedly a specialty). De Niro does likewise, although it would’ve been nice if he’d had a bigger part. Rounding out the trifecta is Clive Owen — yes, playing it tough and cool — as British operative Spike Logan, who engages Danny in an ongoing, globetrotting, increasingly violent game of cat and mouse. The film may not make heavy dramatic demands of them, but at least the three stars are engaged. Owen particularly appears to be having fun as the hard-bitten Spike.

There’s plenty of running, jumping and shooting throughout, and unless the actor is billed above the title, it’s open season.

The story dredges up some international skullduggery rooted in historical fact. Based on Ranulph Fiennes’ international best-seller The Feather Men, which is based on actual events, the film’s shares its title with Sam Peckinpah’s 1975 action opus (not one of Peckinpah’s best, it should be noted) — which is certainly a catchier title than The Feather Men.

The story plays out as a conglomeration of set-ups, double-crosses and cover-ups, almost all punctuated by a fusillade of bullets. Viewers may have a hard time following the convoluted storyline — if they bother to at all — yet there’s no denying that, on the action front at least, Killer Elite fits the bill.

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