Moneyball has had comparisons to The Blind Side (2009) drawn to it for being “based on a true story” with a powerful performance by its lead actor (in this instance Brad Pitt). And while both films are well-acted sports dramas, Moneyball provides a bit more in terms of substance.
Adapted for the screen from the 2003 book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis, Moneyball explores the 2002 season of the Oakland Athletics, managed by former professional baseball player Billy Beane (Brad Pitt). During a meeting, Beane notices Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a Yale graduate in economics who statistically analyzes player performance and believes that using sabermetrics can build and determine a strong team on a budget. Thankfully, the sabermetric part isn’t overwhelmingly prominent and plays an important secondary role. For those unfamiliar, sabermetrics is the analysis of baseball through objective and emperical evidence, such as baseball statistics, that measure in-game activity. Essentially, sabermetrics evaluates players’ and teams’ past performances and generates future projections based on the data.
Beane and Brand begin rebuilding the Oakland A’s after the buy-outs of key players Jason Giambi (to the Yankees), Johnny Damon (to the Red Sox) and Jason Isringhausen (to the Cardinals) following the A’s 2001 season. The two embark on a journey that see undervalued players provided with second chances (like David Justice and Scott Hadeberg) against scepticism among their peers including people from within their own club. And with three of their superstars gone, Beane and Brand trade, buy and cut relentlessly until their team is on the right track. Along the way you’ll find the expected humor from Jonah Hill and a powerfully gripping, soul-searching performance by Brad Pitt. It’s a story that’ll have fingers crossed and goosebumps rising while the edge of the seat suddenly becomes more comfortable.
Despite the humorous one-liners throughout the movie there is a great deal of silent drama. Pitt for instance brilliantly tackles the role of Billy Beane in that he embodies the internally conflicted character, who struggles with his past decisions and failures, while trying to manage a successful team and be courageous enough to champion a new method of recruiting. Full of emotional highs and lows, this performance is truly one where Pitt demonstrates his greatest range in acting to date – he laughs, cries, is engulfed in fits of rage and delivers compassionate and uplifting advice to team members by placing his faith in their abilities, while remaining sensitive and encouraging to his daughter Casey (Kerris Dorsey). This is a genuine portrayal of a real man, he’s not stoic and he’s not a typical “boy’s club” cliche (like some of the other men in the film) – he is a man who has past demons but a genuine hope – and it’s on display.
Likewise, Jonah Hill, who’s normally cast in raunchy comedies like Superbad, Knocked Up and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, may have just found his legitimate break in the acting world. He displays that he can deliver subdued comedy while maintaining a dramatic aura about his performance. He’s tasked with essentially being the key driver behind the sabermetric system (a term coined by Bill James), one of the determining voices in team assembly and a supporter of Billy Beane – who inspires Beane in some of his most prominent moments of doubt. Hill is suprisingly good in this film and is a noteworthy supporting actor. Much of the supporting cast is impressive, even Phillip Seymour Hoffman (who portray’s the Oakland A’s manager Art Howe) leaves you questioning “who else could have played that role?” And there’s almost a realization that “nobody” could have. The casting is brilliant, hats off to casting director Francine Maisler.
Co-authored for the screen by Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) it’s easy to see why the script is so solid and how it is all genuinely believable as a film that exists purely as entertainment and as a semi-historical reference to baseball. Normally films that earn high praise don’t rely on tons of dialogue and while Moneyball boasts lots of it, it’s not distracting and several of the lines actually enhance the film – but this is to be expected with Aaron Sorkin, who masterfully handled writing the lines that made the quick-tongued Jesse Eisenberg memorable in The Social Network. Technically, the script is written extremely well as the entire film is engaging. Cinematically, the script is executed nicely as there are several memorable shots including one of Brad Pitt jogging across the frame of a mounted, panning camera (none of that handheld junk). The script, combined with the direction of Bennet Miller (Capote) – only his second feature film – is a truly genuine film that unlike The Blindside doesn’t feel artificial in parts, rather it conveys a story that may or may not have that perfect Hollywood ending, depending on how you view it. And above all that, the score is really quite nice – might I even say award-worthy?
Moneyball runs 133 minutes and is rated PG-13.
Release Date: September 23, 2011