October 12, 2011
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Starring Brad Pitt & Jonah Hill
Directed by Bennett Miller
133 minutes, PG-13
You don’t have to be a baseball fan to cheer for “Moneyball,” but a little passion for America’s pastime certainly makes this underdog saga all the more satisfying.
The movie is based on the true story of how the Oakland Athletics built a surprisingly strong team from bargain-basement players, using computer-combed data analysis to upend a century of old school, gut-instinct baseball tradition.
“Moneyball” the movie is based on “Moneyball” the book, author Michael Lewis’ riveting, all-access chronicle of Oakland’s amazing, record-setting 2002 season when its manager started rethinking the baseball basics on which his players were evaluated, drafted, positioned and paid.
Brad Pitt stars as Oakland GM Billy Beane, confronting the reality of repeatedly losing star athletes to other teams with considerably deeper pockets.
“We’re gutted--organ donars,” he says after three of his top players are lured away by bigger, better-financed franchises.
Beane hires as his assistant a young Ivy League economics whiz with a radical idea about valuing baseball players for attributes that might fly under the radar of traditional baseball scouting--the number of times a batter got to first base by any means, for instance, as opposed to how many home runs he hit. While bigger, more moneyed teams could afford to court heavy hitters, Oakland spread out its much thinner payroll by drafting players with less-obvious aptitudes and paying them non-superstar salaries.
Pit is super-solid as the besieged front-line executive, whose own dreams of baseball stardom grounded out in a wistful back story the movie suggests helps explain his detachment from the “romance” of the game. He’s also a divorced dad, tenderly hiding the nerve-wracking pressures of his job from his young daughter (13-year-old Kerris Dorsey, who played one of Johnny Cash’s children in “Walk The Line”).
But the movie’s real revelation is Jonah Hill as Beane’s right-hand-man data cruncher, Peter Brand. The role offers him a refreshingly subdued stretch from the comedic slob/loser/slacker roles for which he’s best known, and Hill quietly, cleanly, evenly hits it out of the park.
The movie convincingly blends actual footage of 2002 games with scenes of actors playing real players, and the script does a crowd-pleasing job of drawing out the drama, tension and subtle sideline shadings of a story that is essential built on a high-stakes game of numbers.
“Moneyball” is a movie about baseball, but it’s also a very human, David-and-Goliath tale of little guys taking on much bigger guys, a bunch of young “misfit” players giving all-stars a real run for the pennant, a middle manager trying to figure out how to do more with less, and a father trying to hold on to his job for the sake of his daughter’s future.
Even if you’re not a baseball fan, those are things for which just about everyone can root-root-root.
--Neil Pond, American Profile