Sunday, January 15, 2012
A Great Double Bill: SECRETARIAT and MONEYBALL
Just enjoyed one heck of a double bill of great sports dramas based on true stories. First up is the exciting Secretariat (2010), about the horse who defied the odds and won the Triple Crown of horse racing in 1973. Led by the determined Penny Chenery Tweedy (Diane Lane's best performance and deserving of some serious praise) the horse, nick named Big Red, goes through a lot in a short period of time. Penny has to take over her ailing father (Scott Glenn) horse stables in Virginia and takes it by the reins and goes for it all. She has to deal with quite a bit of sexism as she becomes one of the first women horse racing owners. She hires the colorful horse trainer Lucien Laurin (John Malkovich in another solid performance) and is on her way. Secretariat makes an immediate impact on some small venues and becomes an overnight sensation. But there are some setbacks along the way including several passings of family members. But Secretariat rebounds and charges into the big three races: The Kentucky Derby, The Preakness and The Belmont, looking to make history. It can be argued that if you know the outcome of a story, it is very difficult to make audiences care about it. Well just like Apollo 13, Secretariat does what it needs to do and makes for an exciting and inspiring film. The horse racing scenes are very thrilling and will have you on edge. Not only is it one of the best sports films ever made, but one of the best films ever made period. And very well photographed and capturing the styles and music and scenery of the 70's.
Next is 2011's Moneyball, the story of Oakland A's baseball general manager Billy Beane (a terrific Brad Pitt) who has to put together a winning team with a budget through computer analysis and statistics in 2001. The team loses it's top three players because they can no longer afford them and now must put together a team that will somehow be just as successful. When Beane goes to make some trades he ends up recruiting Yale grad Peter Brand (a solid Jonah Hill, who shows he can do more than comedy roles) to use Brand's knowledge of using stats and numbers to fill the roster with players other teams passed on for one reason or another. Basically a team of misfits are cobbled together, but this is not Major League. This is a stirring drama that doesn't pull any punches. Beane gets resistance from his whole staff including the head coach (the always wonderful Philip Seymour Hoffman). And things don't start off so good for the team as they struggle immediately. But once Beane makes some changes, the team responds with a major league record setting 20 wins in a row. And this system starts making news. While there are several thrilling scenes of baseball action, this film is more about the men and the love they have for the game. Like I said Brad Pitt dominates and gives what I think is his best performance ever. That I have seen of his that is. Backed by a great supporting cast, Moneyball is a winner.