Movie Review: Moneyball

Films opening this weekend:
Abduction - Maple Ridge; Market Arcade; McKinley Mall Dipson; Transit, Elmwood, Galleria, Hollywood Regals; Transit Drive-In
Brighton Rock - Amherst Dipson; Eastern Hills Dipson
Dolphin Tale - Maple Ridge; Market Arcade; McKinley Mall Dipson; Transit, Elmwood, Galleria, Hollywood Regals; Flix; Transit Drive-In - REVIEW
Moneyball - Maple Ridge; Market Arcade; Transit, Elmwood, Galleria, Hollywood, Quaker Regals; Transit Drive-In
The Whistleblower - Eastern Hills Dipson

Did Billy Beane change the game of baseball? If the epilogue to Moneyball is to be believed, he did—to a point. General manager of a team that was one win away from a World Series birth and stuck watching his star trio walk for giant paydays, anyone would be dejected and unsure how to move forward. The Oakland A’s owner had no money to spend, his scouts were pushing sixty years old and cared more about whether their ballplayers had pretty faces than if they could get on base, and he was simply fed up with the game. And with teams like the Yankees owning $100 million-plus budgets, how could a shoestring bunch costing $40 million even try to compete?

Based on the novel of the same name by Michael Lewis, Moneyball is an unlikely feel good tale of beating the odds—or more aptly, using them. Beane (Brad Pitt) knew something in the system had to change, and when he came upon an economics grad from Yale named Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), he found the cohort to help him make it happen. A characterization of Paul DePodesta—who requested the name change once casting switched from Demetri Martin to Hill—this is the man with the formulas, using a statistical rubric created years earlier to unearth the hidden gems no other team cared about.

Admittedly, I’ve never been one for baseball. So my enjoyment of this film falls solely onto the story behind the game itself. And it is enjoyable, thanks to Bennett Miller, an actor turned director who knows how to get strong performances from his cast, and writers Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, who culled together a narrative from inside the statistic-heavy book.

One could justifiably say Moneyball is Brad Pitt’s film, but to me it’s nothing without Miller. Pitt is fantastic in an understated role, although his performance lacks the gravitas Philip Seymour Hoffman—who costars here as manager Art Howe—brought to Miller’s last film, Capote, as well as Pitt’s own strong work in this year’s Tree of Life. Even so, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on end-of-year lists alongside his co-star Hill, who has never been better.

The truth is, the script itself isn’t anything unique once you remove the fascinating and genius plans for baseball it posits. No, the performances and visuals make it greater. Whether it's the relaxed comedy of Beane and Brand’s first meeting with Oakland scouts or the close-up baseball action that’s highly stylized and sometimes isolated in darkness outside the stadium setting, or the skewed compositions set to a moving score, Miller sets the tone.

Moneyball isn’t just about an underdog winning or losing, but instead a few guys who chose to stop following the status quo and attempt something bigger. Whether it worked or not is in the eye of the beholder, but one cannot refute the fact that the 2002 Oakland A’s were noticed. The film lays it all on the line by showing an in-depth account of what happened behind closed doors and—fact or fiction—it’s an entertaining saga worth a look.

Moneyball 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

[1] Brad Pitt, left, and Jonah Hill star in Columbia Pictures' drama 'Moneyball.' Photo by Melinda Sue Gordon. © 2011 Columbia TriStar Marketing Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
[2] courtesy of The Toronto International Film Festival

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