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The sound of sabermetrics
on October 15, 2011
You would think it would be quite difficult to make an interesting film about baseball statistics, but that's what the makers of Moneyball have done. It tells the story of the wonderfully-named Billy Beane who, in 2002, having been recently made the general manager of the struggling Oakland Athletics MLB franchise, who rocks the baseball world to its core by embracing a controversial new statistical method of choosing players to sign in an attempt to turn around the fortunes of his team. Directed by Bennett Miller and based on a popular book by Michael Lewis, the film stars Brad Pitt as Beane, Jonah Hill as his assistant Peter Brand, and features Robin Wright, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Chris Pratt and Casey Bond in supporting roles.
The music for Moneyball is by Mychael Danna, who scored Miller's previous movie Capote in 2005. In many ways Danna faced a task almost as difficult as Miller and his screenwriters: for a film without a musical hook - no musically distinct geographical location, no time period to influence the score - how do you write a score which captures the drama of the story, and remains musically interesting? The answer, in this instance, is very well indeed. Danna scored the film like a powerful drama - all surging strings, rhythmic tempos, tempered with moments of calm lyricism - which is quite engaging.
Much of the score is concerned with minimalist action, with a single instrument carrying its rhythmic core, while other parts of the orchestra express themselves around and about this central motif. The main title, "One Out Away", is a collision of shifting, interlocking string ostinati, an idea repeated later in the see-sawing pair of "Coaching" and "It's a Process", as well as the driving "More", which has an especially powerful cello motif at its core. "Spring Training" and "Time Tested Intangibles" have an almost Desplat-like woodwind dance at the center of the pieces which is very appealing, while other cues such as "Opening Day" and "Game 5" have a sense of anticipation and tension that is conveyed articulately and effectively.
Elsewhere, cues like "A Little Bit of Faith", "Big League", "Can't Miss Prospect" and "Oakland" are softer and more intimate, showcasing Robert Thies' gentle piano performances and offsetting them against brooding woodwinds and string sustains that carry the mood. Later in the score Danna introduces a subtle electronic element into the music, giving the score a little bit of a contemporary edge, most notably in cues such as "The Streak" and "Hattie". The longest cue on the album, "Old Ground", is actually one of its most understated, consisting of little more of shifting string textures and an occasional brass whole note or low-end piano chord for its 4½ minute running time.
The album concludes with two songs - Australian singer-songwriter Lenka's "The Show" performed by the cute-voiced young actress Kerris Dorsey (who plays Brad Pitt's daughter in the film), and the 11-minute epic country-rock instrumental "The Mighty Rio Grande" performed by Texas band This Will Destroy You, which first appeared on the band's eponymous debut album from 2008, and which features prominently in the film.
I'm not entirely sure what all his has to do with baseball and statistics - maybe Danna is suggesting a little echo of James Horner's rhythmic writing for `genius' by way of his scores like Bicentennial Man and A Beautiful Mind, although that might be a stretch - but the music is compelling and interesting enough that it doesn't outlast it's welcome. While fans of more strident and theme-driven works may find Danna's restrained approach a little unapproachable and even a touch boring, for those who enjoy a more classically-oriented score with a touch of contemporary minimalism, Moneyball is worth a download for its 30 minutes of score.