I am not at all a fan of sports. By extension, I am not much of a fan of sports movies. Thus, I was greatly pleased to discover that “Moneyball” is not really a sports movie – at least, not in the way we normally think of them: there was no bombastically triumphant musical score, no heartwarming speeches, no great inspiring lessons learned about life and teamwork. At its heart, “Moneyball” is just about a man trying to overcome the obstacles presented in his career the best way he can.
Brad Pitt stars as Billy Beane, general manager of the Oakland Athletics. He has a problem: the good players on his team keep getting bought off by teams with a much larger budget. This is typical of a basic flaw in sports economics: the teams with all the money are able to keep growing while the “poor” teams stay that way. (Does the concept sound familiar? Perhaps there is a metaphor to be found here…)
Beane hires Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a graduate of Yale who studied economics, to help put together a team based not on skill alone, but statistics. “Using the stats the way we see them, we’ll find value in players that no one else can see,” he says. This controversial method of playing the game sparks disbelief and outrage… until it starts to work.
When I say that “Moneyball” is not a sports movie, it is because the film focuses on the behind-the-scenes rather than the sport – any footage of baseball games is merely used to show the effect of the various decisions made by Beane and Brand. The movie is not so much about the sport as it is about the attempted implementation of this radical new way of playing baseball.
It is a subject that could easily come across as boring and cumbersome, but it does not, thanks to the expertly crafted script by Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian. The details of the complex mathematics are wisely kept to a minimum, but they managed to impart a basic understanding of the idea to the viewer without resorting to a condescendingly dumbed-down monologue. The dialogue sets the pace for the film: at times it is rapid and precise, but it knows when to slow down and let the images speak for themselves.
Of course, a great script is worthless without decent actors, and Pitt and Hill pull it off brilliantly. Brad Pitt has always been an admirable actor, and he has proven himself capable of metamorphoses in his personality throughout his career, but it was especially interesting to witness Jonah Hill in this film. We are used to seeing him as an outspoken character in so many recent comedies, but here he plays the role of Peter Brand with a quiet, almost nervous reserve. He is a character who fears being ostracized for his theories, and he is suddenly thrown into the task of implementing them. Hill does a fantastic job of portraying a man who is cautious of the opportunity while gaining confidence and growing into his new role.
While sports fans may end up disappointed, a great script and fantastic chemistry between Pitt and Hill make “Moneyball” a very entertaining and vastly interesting winner.
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