Moneyball is a super film about baseball that will please fans and non-fans alike. In fact, a good headline for it could be “Brad Pitt Strikes Pay-Dirt with Moneyball.” Pitt, one of today’s most charismatic actors, tears up the screen as Billy Beane, General Manager of the Oakland A’s. Based on the true story of Beane’s use of sabermetrics (analyzing baseball through objective and empirical evidence), it follows Beane’s strategy to form a winning team on a limited budget. I’ll admit that I know the minimum about most sports, so I took a consultant with me – a friend who’s a life-long fan and former college baseball player. Basically, I wanted to know how the film would play to someone who was familiar with the story and most likely knew the outcome of it. It was easy for me to get involved in the suspense of the pivotal moments, and I guessed that at least 1/3 of the audience would be in the same boat. So, what about the other 2/3? As my friend pointed out to me, during the climactic game, you could have heard a pin drop. The audience’s rapt attention testified to everyone’s interest, knowledgeable or not. I’d already found myself groaning at errors and smiling at successes, and judging by the applause at the end of the film, so did everybody else.
The real Billy Beane is still General Manager of the Oakland A’s. The story uses his own experience as a star high-school player recruited by the NY Mets who couldn’t make the adjustment to Major League ball. Beane’s lackluster career in “the show” sets up the contrast between the traditionalists (his scouts and team manager) and Beane’s new approach to building a team. The scouts like to “go with their guts”, but Beane’s failures as a player point out the pitfalls of this method. Jonah Hill plays a fictional character, Peter Brand, a Yale graduate in economics who introduces Beane to sabermetrics (analyzing baseball through objective, empirical evidence). In real life, it was Paul De Podesta who did this. The character was changed due to legal issues, and Hill’s character bears little resemblance to De Podesta. Hill does a great job in a “grown-up” role. He’s best known for playing dorky, high school characters (SuperBad), and in Moneyball, he’s still a nerd, but a really smart, successful one. He and Pitt play well off one another, so they keep the story line moving quite effectively. The always-wonderful Philip Seymour Hoffman does his usual scenery –chewing magic as Art Howe, the very traditional team manager who really doesn’t agree with Beane’s new approach and actively tries to undermine it at every turn. The film includes flashbacks to Beane’s baseball career, and Reed Thompson does a fine job as the young Billy.
When the A’s lose their best players to better-financed teams, like the Yankees, Brand points out to Billy that it’s all about getting men on base. Based on Brand’s analyses, Beane signs less known, quirky players and well-known, but near the end of their careers players. He points out to Billy that they consistently get on base. The film mainly focuses on two of these players – Scott Hatteberg (Chris Pratt) and David Justice (Stephen Bishop). Both actors are effective in both playing and non-playing scenes. My “consultant” gave them passing grades for feigning baseball skill. Also woven into the story is Billy’s personal life. He’s a divorced dad to an adorable daughter, Casey Beane, fetchingly played by Kerris Dorsey. Robin Wright plays his ex-wife Sharon, and although she has little screen time, she makes the most of it, skillfully showing her conflicting feelings about Billy.
Moneyball is basically a “guy” movie that women will also like. The preview audience loved it. If you’re a guy who’s made the sacrifice of going to chick flicks to please your woman, here’s your revenge. Moneyball is the flip-side of a chick flick, but it’s also a great date movie.