Starring: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Chris Pratt
Written by: Steve Zaillian/Aaron Sorkin
Directed by: Bennett Miller
For about 95% of the population, a movie that centers around baseball statistics sounds as appetizing as sticking your hand down a garbage disposal, but Moneyball luckily overcomes those initial feelings to deliver an engaging underdog story with a great script and a tremendous lead performance by Brad Pitt. Yes that’s right, Hollywood made a movie about statistics interesting; what’s next, a movie about that Zuckerberg douche and his privacy-hating website? Heeeeey wait a second…
Moneyball follows the true story of the 2002 Oakland Athletics, an MLB team that loses their three best players to teams with higher salary caps. GM Billy Beane (Pitt) is at a crossroads at what to do; he can’t afford big name players and his staff of talent scouts seem to be worried more about how a player looks and who he’s dating rather than their actual ability. This desperation leads him to hire Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a 25 year old fresh out of college who has a different view on a player’s worth. Using the system of “sabermetrics”, which bases a player’s value on how well they produce runs for their team rather than personal statistics, Beane and Brand build a team of washed-up players and untested talents who have been bounced from team to team through their entire careers. This puts them at odds with A’s manager Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman) as well as the baseball community at large who can’t fathom what Beane is trying to do. And that’s when the A’s start winning…and winning…and winning…
Moneyball is a different kind of sports movie, one that takes a look at the goings on off the field rather than the players themselves. We follow Beane as he tries to smooth talk other GM’s into trading with him, pouring over page after page of player evaluations, and arguing with his staff on who will be the best fit for his new-look A’s. Stats nerds and armchair GM’s will get a kick out of these moments, but for the rest of us who either don’t watch baseball or just watch baseball, Moneyball still manages to be entertaining. That has to do with the smart script, written by Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin (heeeeey wait a second), that livens up the talk of math equations with some funny moments, great lines, and the one thing every sports movie needs to be successful: an underdog story. And the underdog story is attacked on many fronts. We’ve got the Oakland A’s as a whole, who struggle to adapt to the new situation. We’ve also got Scott Hatteberg (Chris Pratt), a former catcher with nerve damage in his elbow who tries to recessitate his career by becoming a first baseman. Most of all though there’s Beane himself, who’s trying not only to keep the A’s a contender despite the loss of its three best players but is also trying to overcome his past as a failed baseball player who was once hailed as a “can’t miss prospect”.
The success of the story threads is not only thanks to the script but to its cast as well. Pitt is excellent as Beane, and Hill makes his first dramatic performance a memorable one as the nerdy Brand. Hoffman brings the goods as usual as Art Howe, but his role is limited to the point where anyone could have played the role and been just as acceptable. Pratt, who is totally killing it on NBC’s Parks and Recreation, nails a completely different role here and shows people a different side many probably aren’t used to seeing.
The only real knock against Moneyball I can come up with is the fact that it runs a bit too long. It isn’t boring on the whole, but it does feel a big dragged out and for some moviegoers, it may be more than their attention spans can take. I found myself looking at my watch once or twice towards the end. Had it been cut down just a bit more, it would have worked a lot better.
Even if you aren’t a baseball fan, Moneyball is worth checking out. Its stats-oriented center isn’t as boring as you would expect and is merely a facet of a bigger story about a team (and a man) looking to find its place after their world has essentially been shattered. Pitt excels, as does the script, which will have you laughing far more than you would think. It runs a bit too long, but as a whole, Moneyball is worth your time. Just don’t expect to understand sabermetrics; I still have no goddamn clue how it works.