Written by Matt Barone (@MBarone)
There’s no avoiding the fact that Moneyball is a sports movie—it’s right there in the final act’s melodramatic “big game” set-piece. And in all of the insider-y talk about players such as Jason Giambi and Kevin Youkilis, the latter referred to as the “Greek god of walks” by one character. Directed by Bennett Miller (Capote), Moneyball certainly doesn’t skimp out on the baseball goods for fans of America’s pastime excited that there’s finally a new flick geared toward their beloved sport that stars an actor who’s more accomplished than, say, Matt LeBlanc.
Miller, however, also realizes that, for his Brad Pitt-led real-life sports film to work as something more than a play-by-play account of the Oakland Athletics’ rise from underdog to record-breaking contender in 2002, everything set off the field needs to hit dramatic home runs. That’s exactly what Moneyball does throughout, setting itself apart as a rousingly entertaining character study that’s more than just another sports movie.
Based on best-selling writer Michael Lewis’ influential 2003 book Moneyball: The Art Of Winning The Game, Miller’s film tells the story of Billy Beane (Pitt), the A’s general manager who had a steep mountain to climb in ’02: He had to piece together a competitive ball club, after losing all-stars (Giambi, Johnny Damon, and Jason Isringhausen), with financial resources equating to about a third of the more dominant New York Yankees. Beane, a former New York Mets prospect who foolishly, and unsuccessfully, jumped into the bigs instead of accepting a full ride to Stanford in 1979, harbors a distrust towards professional scouts. So when a hotshot Yale grad, Peter Brand (based on Paul DePodesta and played by Jonah Hill, a master of awkward silences here), presents a statistical approach to assembling a squad that eliminates scouts altogether, Beane is all for it.
Looked at with scorn and disbelief by his old-school-minded colleagues, including team manager Art Howe (a restrained yet still exemplary Philip Seymour Hoffman), Beane makes a series of questionable moves, such as picking an injured catcher (Parks And Recreation’s Chris Pratt) to play first-base. As the history books show, Beane’s tactics paid off, leading to a monumental 20-game winning streak that serves as Moneyball’s climax. But the victorious run isn’t used as a Major League-like device to show the whole team’s resolve—it’s viewed through the emotional prism of Beane’s hated-upon psyche, and Pitt, owning a true “movie star role” with tons of charisma, brashness, and vulnerability, nails the character’s exterior confidence and internal struggles.
The script, written by the powerhouse duo of Steven Zallian (Schindler’s List) and Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network), pays very little attention to Brand’s number-crunching philosophy, leaving the story’s nerd quotient in the background and expending more energy on Beane’s characterization and snappy, often funny dialogue. Moneyball, in that respect, is as much of a sports movie as The Social Network is an Internet flick. Miller and company care more about Beane, going so far as to allocate scenes to the GM’s interactions with his ex-wife (Robin Wright) and 12-year-old daughter (Kerris Dorsey).
Beane’s endearing father/daughter moments hit the right notes of tenderness, particularly a scene inside a guitar shop, but the character’s family subplot isn’t nearly as fleshed-out as his workplace resiliency. The motivation driving Moneyball is standard fare: It’s a redemption saga, and, inherently, Miller’s book-to-screen adaptation runs the risk of sinking beneath its conventional weight at every second. The collective forces at work are too strong to let that happen, though; Moneyball is a great example of what can happen when A-list talents delve into been-there, seen-that material. In this case, the “inspirational sports movie” motif is stretched beyond the armchair jock appeal of ESPN’s Baseball Tonight.
Written by Matt Barone (@MBarone)