Moneyball isn’t so much about baseball as it is about the underdog. It’s about thinking outside the box and pushing the boundaries for the ultimate goal: winning. Whether or not Billy Beane’s overhaul of the Oakland A’s ball club is ultimately a success depends on how you view success, but that doesn’t mean this film won’t try its hardest to prove it.
Brad Pitt is Billy Beane in a deceivingly complex role that’s confident, humorous and heartbreaking. It’s 2002 and the A’s have lost their best three sluggers to higher contracts at the Yankees and Red Sox. With one of the lowest salary budgets in baseball, they just can’t compete nor can they replace them with similar caliber players. At a loss, Beane comes across Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a lowly assistant, who has some radical ideas about the game. In his mind, everyone’s paying attention to the wrong stats and there’s too much personal prejudice based on looks, personality and the like.
So Beane snatches him up as his assistant general manager and sets out to make a team based on sabermetrics. That is, they make a team based off of pure math, to the dismay of the rest of his staff and coach Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Hoffman plays Howe as a thorough curmudgeon, although his resistance to Beane’s new game plan is understandable. He defies all that Howe knows about the game.
As much as it is a film at baseball, it’s just as much, if not more, a film about Beane, the man. Not only is he going up against knowledge and traditions set in stone for decades, but he’s also battling himself. Divorced and with a daughter who lives mostly with her mom and step-dad (fantastic cameos by Robin Wright and Spike Jonze), Beane feels out of control in every aspect of his life. He’s doing the best he can to have a relationship with his daughter and he’s also hampered by the A’s budget to create a winning team.
It may not be the best sports film ever made, but it comes very close. It’s a film that hinges squarely on the performances and they’re all top notch. Pitt is fantastic as Beane. It may not be the role of his career but it’s one of his best. He’s charismatic, intimidating, funny, determined and, most importantly, human. Those expecting Jonah Hill to be the comic relief could be disappointed, but that doesn’t mean Hill doesn’t make his presence known. Usually the loudmouth of his films, Hill is uncharacteristically reserved. His humor is derived from his character’s professional inexperience and social insecurities. He’s a small fish shoved into a big pond.
Those looking for a great film about baseball won’t be disappointed. But neither will those who could care less about the game. It’s a character study set against the backdrop of America’s greatest past time. And it knocks it out of the park.
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