Unreal Movie Review: Moneyball

The formula of the sports film has remained relatively unchanged after all these years. A ragtag team, or an underdog individual, faces exceptionally steep odds, but through hard work, determination and camaraderie, is able to achieve the impossible by winning a game, a title, a race or a championship.

In many ways, Moneyball doesn’t deviate from this basic tried and true framework, but what it does is take the concept and present it in a way that the genre has never really seen. In all previous sports films, the focus is almost always on the players, and at times, the coaches. But to make a film about the general manager of a baseball team? The guy who puts it all together? How much fun can a movie be about spreadsheets?

As it turns out, quite a lot of fun actually. Moneyball tells the true story of Oakland Atheltics’ GM Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), a former player tasked with the responsibility of putting a winning team together on a shoestring budget. After losing his three best players, the future looks bleak, but Beane goes on a limb with a new recruiting strategy that has many calling him insane.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman is not amused.

The title, Moneyball, references what baseball has become in the modern era. The teams with the most money get the best players, and what good players lower tier teams have are soon scooped up by the big boys who can pay them more.

Insert Jonah Hill as Peter Brand, a recent Yale grad with an economics degree and a wild theory about how to change the game. He’s an expert at analyzing which players are the best value for the money, and through a litany of complicated formulas and equations, reckons he and Beane can put together a championship team with the very limited funds at their disposal.

In turn, the film is not filled with the sort of moments you’d normally expect from an inspirational sports movie. The on-field action is extremely limited, and when footage is shown, the A’s are bumbling the ball around more often than not. Beane never watches the games himself, despite being the GM, and in turn, we the audience don’t feel the need to watch either the majority of the time.

“I have Bobby Kotick on line one.” (The Activision CEO does actually play the owner of the A’s in the film)

Moneyball manages to make the behind the scenes more fascinating than the actual sport itself. We’ve all seen a baseball game before, but we haven’t witnessed teams trading players left and right like they’re cattle, managers jumping between phone calls wheeling and dealing like they’re Hollywood agents, or scouts pouring over hundreds of stats to find the best players in the game. It can be a bit dry at times, but is overall a fascinating look at the underside of a sport we’re all familiar with.

It’s a bit reminiscent of The Social Network, which took the relatively mundane act of building a website and turned it into a film that was not only watchable, but enjoyable. Moneyball also employs a very smart, often humorous script, and great performances from its cast make two hours of baseball stats breeze by.

Brad Pitt is getting older, and in addition to looking more and more like Robert Redford each day, has picked this role as a way to showcase that he can slow down and shine in quieter moments. Sometimes this can put audiences to sleep (The Assassination of Jesse James comes to mind) but here, he brings a raw passion to the role of Beane in a way that balances charm, despair, anger and determination throughout the film.

An odd pairing, but it works. Next up, George Clooney and Aziz Ansari.

It was also nice to see two actors brought into a film that should be out of their element and put up worthy performances. Jonah Hill is an R-rated comedy staple, but here he does a great job as nerdy statistician Peter, and provides many of the films funnier moments, albeit in a much more subtle way than he normally does. Additionally it’s a pleasant surprise to see Chris Pratt, normally seen goofing around on Parks and Recreation, here as a downtrodden ballplayer who finds his shining moment.

Moneyball is a change-up thrown in a genre normally fully of fastballs, and there’s a reason that pitch works from time to time. Its slower pace and different look at a classic game serve it to make it one of the most memorable films of the year, and one that anyone, sports fan or no, can enjoy.

4 out of 5 stars

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  1. Sounds like an interesting movie, and I’m planning on going to see it. My only problem is the whole “true story” part. True, Billy Beane lead the team to the playoffs in 2006 with his controversial system, but since then Oakland hasn’t made it to the playoffs or finished the season above .500. So, is he a success? Depends on how you look at it. Thanks for the good review.

  2. isellion, the movie goes on at the end to tell that the A’s kept on without success so thats taken into account. i was really impressed with jonah hill and hoffman, really enjoyed the story. great song by beane’s daughter to close out the movie, too šŸ˜‰

  3. Micheal, I have read the book and if the movie is true to the book…then it takes a very fanciful look at the “truth”. Billy Beane basically got credit for the players that the old guys drafted. The A’s teams that had success, while Beane was GM, were not the product of his efforts.

    Pleas tell me that people recognize that Bill Beane didn’t invent sabermetrics nor were the A’s the first small market team to do so. This would be akin to someone coming out with a book implying that the Carolina Panthers were the greatest expansion team in NFL history because of their early success so ergo their ownership is brilliant…and somehow no one notices that they are almost constantly rumored to be moving to LA.

    I have to admit though…I will most likely go and see the film, and from everything I read about it, I will enjoy the performances. It just blows my mind that Bill Beane is celebrated for anything.

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