Pitt, Miller hit a home run with ‘Moneyball’

Moneyball (2011)
Directed by Bennett Miller
133 mins.

***1/2 (out of four)

By Tim Lucia

Michael Lewis’s non-fiction book Moneyball burned up the bestseller list in 2004, rocketing all the way to number one.  His follow up, The Blind Side, was adapted into a highly successful film in 2009, earning Sandra Bullock an Oscar for Best Actress.  But, the film Moneyball is extremely superior, and deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as other great baseball films such as The Natural, Bang the Drum Slowly, Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, and Eight Men Out.  In my opinion, the little-seen 2008 film Sugar, directed by Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden (Half Nelson) and the 1993 kids classic The Sandlot are also up there.

Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane was on top of the world at age 18.  Sports and life came easy to him.  A handsome, All-American athlete, he wowed scouts as a 5-tool player (running, throwing, fielding, hitting, and hitting for power) in baseball, and was also a top-tier quarterback in football.  He was offered a full scholarship to Stanford, but was allured by the promise of a big contract to play pro baseball.  A first round draft pick by the New York Mets, Beane took the money but never panned out as a player, ultimately becoming a bust.

Years later, Beane (Brad Pitt) is struggling to put together a roster for the A’s after losing stars Jason Giambi (to the Yankees), Johnny Damon (to the Red Sox), and Jason Isringhausen (to the Cardinals); all teams with big payrolls.  Oakland has the smallest budget of any team in baseball at $40 million, and Beane knows he can’t compete with these teams in the financial market.  So, he tries something new.  While attending a meeting in Cleveland, he meets Peter Brand — in real life his name was Paul DePodesta (Jonah Hill), a Yale graduate with a degree in economics.  Brand presents his theory of analyzing players through statistics, specifically a mathematical formula known as sabremetrics, which looks at a players’ numbers, namely on-base percentage.  In theory, this would allow the A’s to manufacture more runs with less talent.  This also allows them to get players of value that are overlooked by other teams, who are smitten with the sexiness of the 5-tool, raw talent type of player.

No one has faith in this system, including manager Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and the team starts the season off terribly.  Beane faces all kinds of criticism, but ignores it, remaining faithful to the system.  With the eventual help of certain ‘moneyball’ additions, namely Scott Hatteberg (Edmonds native Chris Pratt), the A’s begin to turn things around.  The main subplot revolves around Beane’s relationship with his daughter Casey (Kerris Dorsey), who begins to take an interest in the team out of love for her father.  Robin Wright also co-stars as Beane’s ex-wife.

Director Bennett Miller (Capote) helms a superb film here, with a very good script from Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List, American Gangster, Searching For Bobby Fischer) and Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network, A Few Good Men, The West Wing), two of the best screenwriters in the business.  Miller perfectly blends real-life baseball footage with staged action, and brings the story together in a perfect fashion.  The script is excellent, chronicling Beane’s struggle very well, and Pitt is superb in the lead role.

Moneyball is an outstanding, emotional sports drama.  A crowd-pleaser that really makes you feel for the characters and the team, it sucks you in and takes you on the roller coaster ride that is professional sports.  You don’t have to be familiar with the book, or even be a baseball fan to enjoy Moneyball.  It is an fantastic drama that should earn some Oscar nominations, and deserves a place alongside all the other great baseball films in cinema history.

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