Moneyball is a movie based on two things I can’t stand – baseball and math. Needless to say, I loved it.

No, really, I did.

Brad Pitt stars as Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane, a failed former player now looking for a way to make his team competitive despite a much smaller payroll than most of the top Major League teams. While attempting to make a trade with the Cleveland Indians, Beane meets a Yale economics graduate named Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), who shares with Beane his theory on using complicated statistics to determine a player’s true worth, rather than just relying on the usual sort of “he looks good” mentality. Beane brings Brand into his organization, and soon the two have assembled a rather sad looking team that has their co-workers and Oakland in general asking what the hell they’re thinking. Will their theory be proven true over the course of the season?

Well, yeah, sort of. Look, accuse me of spoilers if you want, but this is based on a true story, and it shouldn’t be too hard to figure out that the book Moneyball, by Michael Lewis, probably wouldn’t have been written if the system hadn’t turned out to be at least somewhat successful. So it’s not like anything that happens in the movie should really shock you (though some who don’t know a lot about baseball – like me – might still be a little disappointed at the film’s eventual revelation of the A’s fortunes in the years since). But this isn’t really the kind of sports movie that is totally about watching the ups and downs of a team’s season. Oh, sure, there’s plenty of that – but this is really about Beane, and the challenges he faced in trying to convince others of a system which at the time seemed like a ridiculous notion to a bunch of old-fashioned minds.

Pitt is pretty fantastic in this. I’m not sure it’s the Best Actor worthy performance many others are claiming, but it’s really, really good, and certainly one of his best (it also allows him to be eating constantly – one of Pitt’s favorite trademarks). Jonah Hill is quite good as Brand, and there’s some fine supporting work from Philip Seymour Hoffman as the team’s doubting manager, Art Howe, but the movie more or less belongs completely to Pitt, and his performance is enough to pull you along from beginning to end. I especially liked the subtle handling of his relationship with his young daughter, which at first seems like just a little extra element thrown in for a little depth, but eventually reveals itself as the key to Beane’s emotional core and one of the more important facets of the movie.

The film is directed by Capote‘s Bennett Miller. I can’t really say if this would have been any better if Steven Soderbergh had been allowed to film HIS version, which was going to incorporate interviews with the real-life people involved. It definitely would have been a lot more accurate – it only took a couple minutes of research after seeing the movie to discover just how many liberties the movie takes with the actual events. I suspect this will upset some hardcore sports fans who will be consistently annoyed by the changes. Obviously none of it bothered me, since I wasn’t privy to all of it before watching. Now that I DO know, I still say, “eh, whatever.” Any change made was in service to making a more compelling movie, and since I’m NOT a gigantic baseball fan, that’s what I was worried about more – getting a compelling movie. Mission accomplished.

It’s funny, actually. Though I can think of few things more boring than watching a baseball game, a lot of my favorite sports movies ARE baseball movies. I guess it makes sense – it’s the American pastime and all, and there are a lot of great stories to be told. This is another one, even if leans heavily towards the business aspects (but hey, the importance of money is another American pastime, so it’s appropriate). Glaring inaccuracies aside, Moneyball is an engaging film powered by a strong lead performance. And, also, who knows when we’re gonna get ANOTHER Brad Pitt/Jonah Hill team-up.

 

 

This review was originally posted at Trevor Likes Movies on October 23rd, 2011.

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