Moneyball gets on base.
Within the genre of sports movies, there exists a division between those that require a love of the sport (any sport) and those that can engender such a love, even for just a couple of hours. Moneyball is the best example of the latter provided to viewers in years.
Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane (Pitt) is losing his three best players to a free agency at the start of the 2001–2002 baseball season. He can’t pay salaries like the big–money Yankees, so, with the help of Yale Economics major Peter Brand (Hill), Beane drafts a team based entirely on statistics. The Oakland roster is meant to revolutionize baseball from the GM offices out to the field.
Fans of Michael Lewis’ book of the same title were skeptical about whether a substantive plot could be adapted out of what is essentially a statistical book. However, guided by director Bennett Miller (of Capote acclaim), the film adaptation of Moneyball evolves into an underdog story, a family drama and a quiet triumph of acting all in one.
The Aaron Sorkin–massaged screenplay lets the viewer see Beane’s personal struggles: his divorce, his own inability to achieve the baseball greatness once prescribed to him and his incapability of dealing with failure. Sorkin’s trademark quicksilver dialogue is at its best between Beane and his fellow managers; although it’s easier to enjoy if you’re familiar with the players being discussed, the rapidity with which the lines are delivered is fun all the same.
What makes Moneyball truly special as a film, though, is the chemistry between Pitt and Hill. Each actor shines in his respective role, but the intensity in Pitt’s outbursts is made all the more engaging by Hill’s stoic and borderline awed reception of them. While his accent and mannerisms begin as some compilation of previous characters from Inglorious Basterds and Tree of Life, Pitt finds his stride after the first draft and holds the audience captive from there on. Similarly, Hill’s wide–eyed take on his new job (his first job) makes baseball seem new again.
In the most conventional of senses, Moneyball is not a happily wrapped movie. Beane, while innovative, does not necessarily grow. But that’s what makes this film so poignant: the details. For sports movie fans, it’s that moment when the team you love hits the playoffs. For drama fans, it’s the scene when two characters reunite. With Moneyball, it’s the intimate viewing of the game tape that changed baseball which drives the entire film home.
This is not a movie just about baseball. It’s about the struggle of every team, every coach, every boss who wants to challenge the system. And with Moneyball, the system is definitely changed.
Check out an interview with Jonah Hill here.
Starring: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill
Directed By: Bennett Miller
PG-13, 133 min.