Sep 30, 2011

MOVIE REVIEWS: MONEYBALL and DRIVE


The GPAs:               Drive   3.8                       Moneyball  3.6

Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan: Animal Attraction

Carey Mulligan Prepares Soup for Her Driver


It’s the weekend, so here are some infallible Banjo tips on movies. 

Don’t think of Drive as one more high-action shoot-em-up.  It is that, but it’s much more. There are holes in the plot a Hummer could drive through, yet the otherwise fresh writing (Hossein Amini) and inventive direction (Nicolas Refn) stopped me from caring too much about plausibility. There’s something going on here that’s bigger than plot.

That something is primarily Ryan Gosling’s unnamed, untamed protagonist in a fascinating study of character, or in a way, the lack of it. A stunt driver, getaway driver, and mechanic supreme, Gosling's character makes Gary Cooper look like a chatterbox. It’s likely that the controlling idea in the movie is the question of what goes on inside the skull and heart of a man who might as well never have learned to talk. Is he an animal? A saint? Can he love? Is this what love looks like, stripped of words to perfume it? Do all of us contain something of the driver's oddly honorable possibilities?

Gosling’s Driver-Mechanic might be every bit the psychopath that Hannibal Lector is, but probably not—if he's savage, he is so with a purpose. He cares deeply, even obsessively and sacrificially, for Carey Mulligan’s angelic, down-on-her-luck young mom, who might as well be single. Our nonverbal Driver-Mechanic is also a capable surrogate dad for Mulligan’s little boy. I’m not sure that’s convincing, but it’s appealing.

Ryan Gosling Looks Out for Bad Guys
Bryan Cranston and Albert Brooks are excellent in supporting roles. I knew a bit about Cranston’s range, but I’d never have guessed that Brooks could be so convincing as a crime boss.  

Oscar Isaac, as Carey Mulligan’s convict husband, and Ron Perlman, as Brooks’ subordinate, animalistic thug, are chillingly effective. I’ve rarely been so convinced about the badness of the bad guys, the hollow in the middle of so many of them. And in the case of Isaac’s role as father, husband, and thief, I’ve rarely been made to imagine that I understand and sympathize with such a character, pawn and victim that he is, at least to a considerable extent. 
And Sure Enough, Here Come the Bad Guys
The violent scenes are fairly extreme, but they feel realistic and relevant to character and theme. Also, they are not constant; there's more to the movie than bone crunching and blood. 

Drive offers a fresh take on crime movies, without losing its intensity for the sake of its art.

******
Based on the true story of the 2002 Oakland A's baseball team, Moneyball is a more conventional movie. Brad Pitt is credible as Billy Beane, Oakland's hard-driving general manager, a man with a vision. Jonah Hill shows some range in his portrayal of Billy’s Number Two Man, a mathematics, economics, and baseball nerd who offers a new strategy for winning games without losing money.

Although I did not remember the fascinating story of these Oakland Athletics and only recently became aware of Billy Beane and real-life moneyball, I am something of sports fan—mostly football and baseball—and it’s hard for me to imagine a non-fan’s response to Moneyball. My best guess is that the characters and plot are more than interesting enough for viewers of all stripes. The movie is about the business end of baseball and its personal stories; it's not just one action shot after another—though there are plenty of those too.

In terms of characterization and ideas, this a story of driven men, the trials of all new kids on any professional block, people with ground-breaking ideas, the trenchant and macho sense of superiority in a circle of men who are not at all superior, and the infamous plantation mentality that hovers at the edges (or centers) of all big-time sports. This might quiet some of the shouting about the high salaries of athletes, who, in their short careers, are bought and sold like chairs, often at the whim of rich old men.

Brad Pitt does as well as he can, given his fame, to be somebody else, to present Billy Beane as a man we might be more tempted to judge than like. He has a cold side, sharp edges, and the question of whether he can rise above that creates much of the movie’s substance. (I thank the real Billy Beane for permitting this multidimensional portrait of him).

For those who are baseball fans, this is probably a must-see flick, even if you’ve read the book. I think anyone who follows sports wonders what goes on behind the scenes in The Show, whether it’s baseball, football, or curling. Moneyball offers a convincing portrait of locker rooms, front office deals, and on-field scenes. It’s a pleasant and educational two hours. 

**

12 comments:

altadenahiker said...

Funny you should say he does as well as he can.

I have a hard time with films using well-known faces. It's almost like watching a high school play.

Abraham Lincoln said...

I have not watched a movie since 1955 when Patty and I went to see a war movie that was popular then. Can't even remember the name of it.

Banjo52 said...

AH, how about Redford as Gatsby? One of my great grievances of all time. I like the comparison to high school plays. Precisely.

Abe, that's a long time! Mr. Roberts? On the Beach? Sometimes I go primarily for the popcorn or air conditioning, but there's also some quality stuff being done, from time to time (which is probably the case for all quality stuff).

Pasadena Adjacent said...

shhhesh. I read your comments and I (who rarely remember dreams) just realized I had a dream with Robert Redford in it last night.

Lost (not death) my mother at the base of a rocky butte (she had everything I owned with her) walked around trying to find her. Sat down at a bench and started crying (it was getting cold) and Redford showed up with that great voice. Feels like he made all the bad stuff go away.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

sorry
dreams are so boring: others that is

Barbaro said...

Brad Pitt seems like a serious miscast, but as you say, he's so famous now as to overshadow almost any role. I like baseball enough to give Moneyball a shot. I've seen previews for Drive, however, and it looks awful; you haven't convinced me otherwise.

In response to the previous topic, "Ode to the Cat" is my go-to Neruda poem, but any of his odes will do. He's much like Whitman to me, who you dislike, so I don't know...You don't have to know Chile to love Neruda, but it sure doesn't hurt. More next time he comes up directly.

Banjo52 said...

PA, no, dreams interest me. And karma, which, I think I've confessed before, I misuse and over-use. Clearly RR is in the air (where he should have been instead of The Great Gatsby).

Barbaro, re: Drive, your loss. I'll look at "your" Neruda again--it's been years. Maybe I've mellowed. Or just been cowed by everyone else's adoration of him.

Now I'm trying to imagine someone else starring in Moneyball. Who would it be, and would/could he "inhabit the role" better than Brad Pitt does?

Hannah Stephenson said...

Both sound fun, especially Drive. Thanks for the excellent reviews.

Lots of good ones right now.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

your figurines remind me of miniature Viola Frey's

Banjo52 said...

Hannah, thanks. And yes, good ones now, but following a long dry spell, it seems. I hear that's typical for summer . . .

PA, I see your point. For "my" figurines, I was guessing high school prankers or MFA students at a nearby grad school. In any case, they were gone the next time I walked there. I'm not sure I can explain why I like them so much, but one reason is that they ask us not to take it all too seriously. On the other hand, I can't dismiss them as tomfoolery either, maybe because they were on the lip of a waterfall (behind them). Similar questions that "street art" raises (for me): how seriously do I take it? As you know, I have a stuffy streak, but my limits have limits.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

"my limits have limits." that could make a decent bumper sticker

Banjo52 said...

Thanks, PA! I think I agree. Any money in bumper stickers?

Lovers' Lane