This is essentially how Billy Beane feels about baseball. As a high school phenomenon in San Diego, Beane could hit a baseball a mile and throw it from deep in right field to home plate without the ball taking a bounce. He was a scout’s dream turned worst nightmare; a sure fire stud who never panned out.
When he became the general manager of the Oakland A’s, with his own story as fuel, Beane created “Moneyball,” a system of evaluating players based on non-glamorous stats such as walks and on-base percentage, a story first highlighted in a book by Michael Lewis and has now made it to the silver screen.
Brad Pitt is Oscar-worthy as Beane, the man who, with the help of fresh-faced economics wiz Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), attempts to change how ballplayers are evaluated. Beane disregards scouting reports and instead bases his moves on numbers spat out of Brand’s computer. Beane puts his neck on the line, knowing that he will be out of a job if his plan fails. He makes his changes much to the chagrin of the team scouts and A’s manager Art Howe, (Philip Seymour Hoffman) – but the last thing Billy Beane wants on his ballclub is a player like himself.
In a pivotal scene early in the film, Beane asks Brand if he would have drafted him in the first round. Brand replies, “I would have taken you in the ninth.”
“These guys were just saying that just because it’s been done a certain way for 150 years doesn’t make it truth,” Hill said in an interview earlier this month.
Alongside Pitt, Jonah Hill elevates his game from a curly-headed wisecracker in the Apatow company to a poised and confident actor.
“I think it’s intimidating because I’m used to doing comedies, and this is a drama,” Hill said. “It’s also intimidating to have such a big opportunity to do something so different and obviously working with Hoffman, Brad Pitt – two of the best dramatic actors – and Miller – one of the best dramatic filmmakers – and [Aaron] Sorkin, [Steve] Zaillian – two of the best writers.”
While “Moneyball” is a sports movie, it does not overpower the off-the-field action that made the book so enticing. The film fan in me wanted to stand up and cheer, but the baseball fan in me felt a bit slighted.
Sorkin took on “The Social Network” and made an untellable story sing. “Moneyball” is not geared to work that way. Yes, the A’s do have a winning season and Beane does keep his job, but I was disappointed that this film does not honor baseball the way some of the great baseball movies do. Sorkin and Zaillian make the role of the manager, Howe, seem irrelevant and lead us to believe the A’s have success that year solely because of Beane’s moneyball and not because they had the best starting rotation in baseball that season.
These inauthenticities aside, “Moneyball” balances sports film and dramatic piece as well as most, and the interaction between Pitt and Hill strikes an odd, yet extremely entertaining balance.
“A movie about baseball and stats sounds boring to me,” Hill said, “but like I said, I think baseball is just a beautiful, aesthetic backdrop to tell this story, this moving story.”