Fans of baseball have a love for the sport for everything from the excitement of a game-winning home run in the bottom of the 9th inning, to the “marquee” popularity of a star player, to just being amongst fellow fans and having a hot dog and some Cracker Jacks on a warm summer evening. Underneath the basic surface of baseball from the fans’ prospective, however, lies the business of the sport—the putting together of a winning team and the costs, both literal and figurative, that it takes to do so. Led by an undeniably excellent turn by actor Brad Pitt, director Bennett Miller’s Moneyball presents the involving story of a man, driven to form a winning team through unconventional, against-all-odds statistics.
The year is 2002 and the Oakland Athletics are one of the lowest-salaried teams of Major League Baseball. After a difficult loss the season before, the A’s find themselves losing three of their best players to richer teams offering enticing multi-million-dollar salaries. Pitt plays Billy Beane, the general manager of the A’s. Having to rebuild his team at a minimal budget, Beane becomes persuaded by the theories of Peter Brand (played by Jonah Hill), a nerdy, timid recent Yale graduate who crunches numbers to arrive at a strict cost-benefit analysis of baseball players. Brand encourages Beane to go against the norm and select undervalued players based on key performance statistics. Together, the two men put together a team that many couldn’t help but cry foul over. Despite deafening opposition from all sides, including the A’s traditionalist, stoic team manager Art Howe (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman), Beane and Brand brave through a tough start of the season, only to see the team eventually find its footing and inch closer and closer to the baseball history books.
Through flashbacks, we see that Beane is a former MLB player himself, but wasn’t destined to achieve glory on the field and so made the gradual shift into management. Beane is an unconventional manager—he doesn’t sit still for a game and would rather hear about it on the radio or through texts with Brand. Pitt slides nicely into the role, showing us an inward man haunted by his unfulfilled past and driven to win and change the way the business of baseball is done. Pitt delivers a deeply involving, Oscar-nomination worthy performance here. Hill as well turns in a good, low-key performance, which is a stark shift from his usual “loud” comedic turns.
Moneyball thankfully isn’t a traditional sports movie. We’ve seen those many, many times before—the cliché underdog team, being whipped into shape, that ultimately wins it all and everyone lives happily ever after with their championship prize. Instead, the film’s focus is on Beane and the struggles he endures, internally and externally, with his determination to stick to Brand’s theories and try and shift the thinking of baseball traditionalists who are saying that what he is doing is absolutely nonsensical. Miller (who previously directed the Oscar-winning Capote) shows us a man going through the motions of the very business of baseball, in which players are practically cattle stock that you can trade away or get rid of through a couple of frantic phone calls, all for the sake of winning it all in the end.
The winning script of the film is courtesy of Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List) and Aaron Sorkin, the sharp screenwriter who earlier in the year deservedly won the Oscar for the equally excellent The Social Network. With a strong script, fine direction and stellar performances out of Pitt and Hill, Moneyball delivers a truly fascinating, moving and at times suspenseful story. Moneyball is easily an early candidate for one of the best films of 2011.
5 out of 5 stars