Wednesday, September 21, 2011


If the phrase "inside baseball" was ever used to describe a film, this would be the movie in question - and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Moneyball (based on Michael Lewis' 2003 book of the same name) chronicles the story of Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) and his unorthodox attempts to create a championship team with far less money than his competitors. In a way, the film itself is just as unorthodox as Beane's methods; we expect certain elements from this genre, but director Bennett Miller gives us a new angle to consider. Through good performances, a detailed script, and a fresh perspective, the movie tells an intriguing story of two men who went against the tides of baseball history and changed the game forever.

Director: Bennett Miller
Starring: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Chris Pratt

When teams with more money start poaching Billy Beane's players for themselves, Beane literally can't afford to compete on their level. During a potential trade meeting with the Cleveland Indians, Beane meets Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a Yale graduate who studied economics and has a different approach to rebuilding than Beane's over-the-hill scout staff. Beane adopts the youngster's philosophy and hires him as the new Assistant General Manager of the Athletics, much to the chagrin of his older co-workers. Much of the movie is steeped in the age-old "technology vs. human instinct" theme, but while most films take the human approach in this argument, Moneyball champions facts over intuition.

Moneyball successfully turns the sports genre on its head by exposing audiences to the detailed inner workings of a Major League Baseball team. Beane's acquisition of Peter is far more valuable than that of any one player, and for the purposes of this movie, the players on the field aren't nearly as important as the key "players" off the field. It's easy to hear co-writer Aaron Sorkin's influence in the dialogue, especially evident in a labyrinthine trade deal that comes midway through the film. It's smart and lightning quick at times, reminiscent of portions of Sorkin's Oscar-winning Best Adapted Screenplay from last year, The Social Network. Throughout the movie, we're shown flashbacks of Beane's days as a player and we see the effects his past has on him in the present time. The editing was sharp and effective, only concerned with the interesting aspects of the story and wisely breezing over sections that didn't need to be explored in depth on film.

This is clearly a Brad Pitt vehicle, and I'm already hearing some whispers of Oscar potential surrounding his performance. I think this is some of his best work in recent years, and though I don't quite agree that he's deserving of an Oscar for this particular performance, I thought he was...aggressively good. Not breathtaking, but still the kind of quality work that you expect from an A-lister. His supporting cast was impressive as well, with really solid work from Jonah Hill and small roles for Philip Seymour Hoffman as the embattled coach and Chris Pratt from "Parks and Recreation" as a catcher-turned-first-baseman. Beane's daughter is played by Kerris Dorsey (a spitting image of a young Katey Rich, friend of The Not Just New Movies podcast), an actress with a bright future who provides the muse for Pitt's character as he struggles through decisions late in the movie.

If you're a sports buff, you may know how this story ends before you see Moneyball's opening credits. But I didn't know how it would play out and it captivated me, so I won't get into the specifics of the ending here. I wonder, though: because I grew up playing baseball, much of this movie was easy for me to comprehend, but would someone who's never played or studied the game have the same appreciation that I do? Sound off in the comments and let me know what you think, regardless of your personal history with baseball. Until next time...

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