“Moneyball,” written by Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin, Stan Chervin (story) and Michael Lewis (book), directed by Bennett Miller, 133 minutes, rated PG-13.
At first glance, “Moneyball,” based on the best-selling book by Michael Lewis, might seem like a hard sell – especially for relative MLB novices such as myself. After all, it’s a movie centered around baseball statistics and recruiting.
However, in the story of the Oakland A’s, and general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), there’s a real-life underdog story that rivals any fiction Hollywood could ever drum up.
Coming off a successful run in 2001, the A’s roster was gutted, losing stars Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon and Jason Isringhausen. Budget constraints leave the A’s roster crippled and leave management unable to properly fill the vacancies.
What’s a general manager to do?
At the end of his rope looking for a solution, Beane, with the help of Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), an economics major fresh out of Yale, installs an unorthodox recruiting system based on on-base percentages, which would come to be known as “Moneyball.”
Beane and Brand scout out aging star David Justice (Brent Jennings); Scott Hatteberg (Chris Pratt), who can’t throw a baseball; and Giambi’s brother, Jeremy (Nick Porrazzo), whose career is plagued with problems off the field. They’ve become lepers of the major leagues, but they all have one thing in common: a solid on-base percentage. The MLB’s “Island of Misfit Toys,” as Brand explains.
As Beane, Pitt is an impulsive livewire, whose energy comes from the pressure that he places on himself. Add to that that Beane’s mind is never at rest, and the character becomes exponentially complex. It’s a tough role, but Pitt fully embodies the general manager, grabbing onto the essence of Beane and never letting go. It’s another outstanding performance in what could be the Golden Age of Pitt’s career.
Jonah Hill, surprisingly, plays the straight-laced counterpart to Pitt’s eccentric general manager. He’s a perfect foil to the confidence that Pitt exudes, always staring wide-eyed like a child at his first major league game, in awe of his new position the power that comes with it.
The relationship Beane and Brand build brings a little bit of heart and comic relief to a story engrained in statistics and sports. It also helps humanize the cold corporate side of America’s pastime, presenting them as people and not just bigwigs sitting in the owner’s box.
“Moneyball” pulls off the impossible by presenting baseball as a business without killing the romanticized side of the game that every red-blooded American grows up envisioning. The Oakland A’s 2002 season is that David vs. Goliath story that we yearn for. It’s the crux of why we watch sports.
While “Moneyball” will obviously play well to baseball fans, offering an insider’s look at the sport, nonfans will find relief in a well-crafted film with two strong performances.