Moneyball (2011 Columbia Pictures)
Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane’s successful attempt to put together a baseball club on a budget by employing computer-generated analysis to draft his players.
Starring Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill & Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Directed by Bennett Miller. Produced by Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz & Brad Pitt. Screenplay by Steven Zaillian & Aaron Sorkin. Story by Stan Chervin. Based on the book by Michael Lewis.
As I’m sitting here trying to write this review, I’m realizing how difficult it is for me—an avowed baseball fan—to review Moneyball. Is it a story of David vs. Goliath? Yes, sort of. Is it about iconoclasts who see the world so differently that they’re branded insane? Yes, sort of. Is it about a little-engine-that-could baseball team trying to achieve greatness? Yes, sort of. What Moneyball really is, though, is a truly compelling story about one general manager’s zeal to win so badly that he’s willing to risk everything he knows and trusts.
That’s Billy Beane’s story. He lives and breathes baseball. A former jock, the obligatory “next great thing” to never materialize, Beane is now a divorced dad balancing his all-consuming role as the general manager of the Oakland A’s (during and after their collapse in 2001) with that of being a weekend dad to his daughter.
But the great thing about Moneyball is it never drifts into those clichés about distant fathers and petulant daughters. It never goes down the road where our protagonist has to choose between his baseball team or his family. Instead, Moneyball stays focused on Beane and his assistant GM Peter Brand and their struggle for credibility in adopting Brand’s unconventional method of building a competitive team on a shoestring budget.
Brad Pitt plays Beane convincingly as a slightly unkempt, bristly man who, in his own words, hates losing more than he likes winning. As the wide-eyed Brand, Jonah Hill is not out of his depth in a dramatic role. His turn as Brand is confident, but not arrogant about his methods, even in the face of grizzled, old baseball scouts who would sooner trust a ball players face than the mathematics of his abilities.
While Moneyball is mostly about Billy Beane, it’s the scenes with Pitt and Hill that make the picture. There’s an obvious chemistry there. I’d have to credit the writing team of Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin for at least a portion of that chemistry. Any dialogue generated by a team that features Sorkin is sure to be snappy, engaging and witty. And Philip Seymour Hoffman, who I don’t think can deliver a bad performance, deserves accolade as the gruff, condescending A’s manager Art Howe (although I suspect the real Art Howe isn’t too pleased).
While baseball provides the backdrop, the action doesn’t take place on the diamond. It’s in the GM’s office, in the clubhouse and in Beane’s pickup truck. Credit director Bennett Miller for keeping you in a baseball state of mind throughout the entire movie without beating you over the head with endless recreations of baseball games.
But when Moneyball does recreate the games of the 2002 season, it succeeds in evoking feelings of being there without succumbing to tired, cliché techniques.
Ultimately, Moneyball is worth watching because it reminds us that in life, the story doesn’t always stop with a happy or sad ending. If anything, it reminds us that there’s always next year.