“Moneyball” is easily the best movie about baseball since “Bull Durham” and it takes a very unique look at the pastime and the players who inhabit it. Whereas most baseball movies are about rising to the occasion and winning the big game, this one is more interested in the mechanics and statistics to see if the current state of baseball can be improved. This is not about winning mind you but of recapturing a love for the game that has long since passed people by.
Brad Pitt stars as Billy Beane, general manager of the Oakland Athletics who has just witnessed the team’s tough postseason lost to the New York Yankees. In its aftermath, the Athletics watch as its key players Johnny Damon, Jason Giambi, and Jason Isringhausen leave the team for more lucrative deals. From there the team’s management becomes obsessed about finding the best players to fill their spots. What stands in their way is that they have a budget of $40 million to work with which in any other case would sound like a lot, but it’s pitiful compared to the Yankees’ overall budget of $100 million.
While visiting a coach on a rival team, Beane comes across Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a Yale economics graduate who has new and radical ideas of how to assess a baseball player’s value. After hearing Brand’s theories, Beane hires him and they put his unusual theories into effect. This quickly upsets the team’s scouts who can’t or don’t want to see the validity of the chances being taken, but Beane is insistent that they go in this new direction. It later becomes clear that Beane isn’t just doing this because of a lack of money, but to find a way to fall in love with this game that betrayed him years before he became a manager.
There are a number of things at work in “Moneyball;” the need to change the game, the disadvantage some teams have compared to others, and the demons that keep fighting certain people long past their prime. In flashbacks we discover that Beane was an exceptional baseball player in high school, and scouts for the big teams were serious about signing him up for the major leagues before he could even consider college. His career however turned out to be a stunning disappointment, and it’s this failure after such promise which haunts him to this day.
Brad Pitt gives one of his best performances ever as Billy Beane, and he finds a balance to where he inhabits the character more than acts. Pitt draws us emotionally into the movie even more than some might expect, and he brings a realism to his character which makes his acting never less than compelling.
Jonah Hill, best known for “Superbad,” “Funny People,” and “Get Him To The Greek” gets to go against type with this dramatic role. He does an excellent job of playing Brand as so fresh-faced to this job and becomes our eyes to the realities of baseball which many people may not be aware of. Seeing Hill imbue Brand with a strong intelligence and a big heart proves that he has a lot more to offer in his career than just comedy movies, and it marks an important change of pace for him.
Another great performance in “Moneyball” comes from Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Art Howe. You never catch Hoffman acting as he portrays Howe as being worn down by endless contract negotiations and constantly questioning the control he has over his own team. Howe is adamant that he is the one to manage the players above everyone else, but he finds he doesn’t have the energy for a prolonged argument with Beane or Brand as they have their own plans. It’s the weariness of the character Hoffman so perfectly captures, and he remains one of the best actors working today.
“Moneyball” is based on Michael Lewis’ non-fiction of the same name, and it has been adapted by two of Hollywood’s best screenwriters: Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin. Neither of them try to spell out everything for the audience in regards to what the movie is about because they are smart enough to give them enough information to where the story is understandable enough. And on top of everything, their dialogue remains as brilliant as ever.
In a year which has seen more remakes or recycled ideas instead of anything original , “Moneyball” succeeds in giving us a story that feels so fresh and highly innovative. In dramatizing real life events, the movie makes you want to see people go against the grain because it doesn’t help to keep things the same as they have always been. It also makes the audience remember what is so great about the game of baseball in a time where headlines about steroid or performance enhancing drug abuse make it all seem like a sick joke.
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