“Moneyball” is one of those rare sports movies that breaks from the usual formula and takes a more thoughtful look at what it takes to run a sports team. Most movies usually start with an underdog team the learns to over come some kind of contrived differences to in order to win the big game at the end. Not here. Director Bennett Miller, working from a screenplay written by Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, puts together a smart film about real people.
Brad Pitt stars as Billy Beane, the GM for the Oakland A’s baseball club. As the film opens his team is losing to the New York Yankee’s in the post season of 2001. The next season is finds himself tasked with rebuilding the team after losing a lot of high profile players. The problem is that the A’s are a small market team with about a third of the budget a team like the Yankee’s has.
This is where he hooks up with Peter Brand, played by Jonah Hill. Brand is a young, Yale economics graduate with some pretty radical ideas on how to asses different players value. Instead of going by his team of scouts and their intuition from years of experience, they go after players with specific stats that are normally ignored.
The Scouts are hostile towards this method right away. Beane also finds opposition from the team’s hard line coach played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, he still uses a traditional style to run the team despite what Bean is trying to accomplish. Eventually Beane is forced to trade his remaining star player to force the coach in to the method he wants.
At first this new structure is a complete failure. Eventually the team starts to gel and their record improves. Everything comes to ahead when the team sets a MLB record by winning an unprecedented twenty games in a row.
Now the baseball scenes might sound exciting but there is a very little screen time devoted to the actual game playing. All the action takes place behind the scenes as Beane and Brand attempt to undermine the way the game has been run for decades. What is truly amazing is how their radically different personalities combined to put together a competing team from one of the lowest payrolls in the league.
The screenplay devotes a lot of scenes to Brand and Beane attempting to hash out this program. Sorkin and Zaillian provide them with dialogue that sounds real and personality based, especially when this new school of thinking clashes with those who are unwilling to change.
Not many movies, let alone sports themed ones, contain as much intelligent dialogue and incredible acting as “Moneyball”. Brad Pitt gives one of his best performances here. I am reading other critics who seem to be saying that this performance finds him coming in to his own. Those who say that have obviously never seen any of his previous credits.
The real revelation here is Jonah Hill, who finally gets a role that showcases his dramatic chops. Hill has mostly only been cast in comedies but here finds the perfect note as a young kid who feels way over his head in a world he doesn’t fully understand. Just look at how he handles himself in a crucial scene where he has to tell a player that he has been traded to another team. Not an easy task especially wen you are shy by nature.
“Moneyball” is one of the years best films. Bennett Miller, who previously directed “Capote” seems like an odd choice to direct this film but he knocks it out of the park.