What do you get when you take the Bennett Millet (Director of “Capote”), Oscar winning screenwriters Steven Zaillian (“Schindler’s List”) and Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network”) and you toss in Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, and Philip Seymour Hoffman? You get “Moneyball”, the newly released film based on the best-selling novel of the same name. And all of these things added together equal one exceptional film.
“Moneyball” is the story of Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) and his fight against status quo. His fight against the machine that is major league baseball scouts and the same exact things they have been doing for over a century in order to build a team. The film starts off with Beane watching his 102 win ball club drop the deciding American League Division Series game to the New York Yankees. The Yankees payroll is well over one hundred million dollars. The Athletics sport a payroll a shade under forty million. The original title to the novel that the film is based on was “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game”. When it comes down to it, Major League Baseball may be the most unfair game in all of professional sports. How can teams compete against money giants like the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, and other teams that are willing to shell out dollar after dollar to win the fall classic? Well, they just may have to play “Moneyball”.
What it comes down to is that after listening to scouts for years talking about how a guy looks; this particular prospect has the baseball body, the right swing, a cannon for an arm, now there are those who will ignore all of these things. Instead these particular believers of the “stats game” pull out their laptops and decide that the best way to generate wins is to put their faith in math and the statistics they feel they need in order to win games. For Beane and his new assistant G.M. Peter Brand (Hill) they feel that on base percentage is where the key lies. The more you get on base, the more you are likely to score runs. And to Beane and Brand it doesn’t make one lick of a difference how you get on base.
So we follow Beane on his journey through the 2002 baseball season. We see how he constantly has to deal with aging scouts discrediting his new system. We see how Beane struggles with manager Art Howe (Hoffman) to actually play the players that he went out and got for particular positions. Howe will not listen to Beane on how to manage the club. The lineup card is Howe’s and no one else’s and he will field the team that gives him the best opportunity to generate wins and get a job managing elsewhere. Howe is working on a one year contract which according to him shows “a lack of faith” on the part of the ownership and front office of the club. One can’t really argue with Howe on that one.
Beane is wrestling with people on every front in order to keep his new vision from becoming blurred. Older players like David Justice don’t want to be told how to play. Younger players like Scott Hatteberg, a catcher his entire life, have a lack of confidence in their new roles; in Hatty’s case it is at first base. The only person that is completely on his level is Peter Brand, a 25 year old Yale graduate with a degree in economics. You can see how hard this must be on Beane. He has to squeeze dimes out of other teams where he can. He has to constantly pressure the owner to spend a little more. He has to go so far as to sweeten a trade by asking another ball club to supply his players with soda for three seasons. One dollar for a pop is asking a lot out of players that are use to having everything handed to them.
You don’t have to be a fan of baseball in order to enjoy “Moneyball”. You just have to be a fan of movies, a good story, and it helps having an appreciation for a film that is structured to deliver. Everything is firing where it should be from the direction to the acting to the screenwriting. All you have to do is show up, kick back, and enjoy. Be warned that the film drags slightly at the end because it goes on for about 15 minutes after what most of the audience thought was the end. But, I didn’t mind, I enjoyed every minute of it.
All in all, one of the better films of the year and a must see for fans of the sports film genre that is too often stale and repetitive. And to top it all off Brad Pitt delivers one hell of a performance. The man is a great actor and “Moneyball” is one of the many pros in the argument compared to the few cons.
RATING: **** stars (out of *****)Tags: "Moneyball", brad pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman