Not for baseball geeks only
A film about baseball statistics? Sounds boring, right? Even with actor Brad Pitt cast in the starring role, which on paper looks to be a demographic hook, the true but potentially lackluster subject matter of “Moneyball” would seem like a tough sell to anyone but diamond diehards.
But “Moneyball” is not your typical sports movie. There are more scenes shot in the clubhouse and in locker rooms than on the playing field. Still, what “Moneyball” lacks in fence swinging drama, it more than makes up for charm and smarts.
And the film doesn’t rely totally on Pitt, who nonetheless oozes confidence and likability on screen in ways we haven’t seen him do, perhaps ever. At its heart, “Moneyball” is an underdog story about challenging conventions and taking risks that, even if they don’t lead to the big payoff, are worth taking.
Pitt stars as Billy Beane, the main character of the non-fiction book by Michael Lewis upon which the film is based. A former player himself who never lived up to his potential and was also a divorced father, Beane worked as the Oakland A’s General Manager in 2002. When the small market Oakland franchise loses three star players to teams with much larger payrolls, Beane realizes he can’t compete using traditional methods.
He takes notice of a portly young Yale graduate named Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), whose character is a fictional composite, and who argues in favor of valuing players based on performance-based statistical categories rather than reputation. Beane soon hires Brand to be his assistant.
The mixed pair is a perfect and occasionally very humorous match. Pitt’s Beane is a passionate, occasionally ill-tempered boss whose crusty, veteran scouts think has gone bonkers. Hill’s Brand is a shy numbers cruncher who nevertheless believes in his system. Making things more difficult is stubborn manager Art Howe (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) who wants a new contract.
While the movie takes some liberties, and the pair’s concept never leads to World Series rings, there’s no denying that the “sabermetric” system the two developed helped the team to one amazing year and became a model upon which many teams now rely.
Like the sport it examines, “Moneyball” has a deliberate pace and is a little longish given the subject material. Scenes depicting Beane’s relationship with his ex-wife (Robin Wright) and especially his young daughter (Kerris Dorsey) are particularly heartfelt.
“Moneyball” is a fascinating and entertaining peek inside the part of big-time sports that we rarely see—the business of baseball—and an odd couple’s determination to think outside the batter’s box.
Rated PG-13 for some strong language.