Moneyball isn’t your typical inspirational sports movie, thankfully. It’s more of a baseball-themed biopic of the Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane, and the way he turned the traditional methods of building a successful baseball team on its head with a modernized statistical approach. Moneyball hits theaters this weekend, and proves an intelligent study of the use of math, economics and statistical analysis in the world of baseball.
If you consider that this movie is based on the true story of Billy Beane and is basically a biopic, it succeeds in being a rather smart film. It does a great job dramatizing what could be a very dry and technical stat-counting theory created to assign value to baseball players and referred to as “moneyball”.
Brad Pitt leads the cast of Moneyball as the former professional baseball player-turned-scout Billy Beane. Beane is in a bad place as the manager of one of the poorest teams in the league. He just wants to win a World Series, but with other wealthier teams luring away his big players, it looks like he doesn‘t stand a chance at forming a winning team.
As he maneuvers his players and tries to score some up-n-comers from other teams, he realizes that unless he changes the system, there’s no way the Oakland A’s will ever be a winning team, given the money he can spend on potential team members.
Lucky for Mr. Beane, he meets an unassuming recent graduate and economics major who swears by a new method of building a baseball team. Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) has worked up a computer system to analyze each player in the league and assign value to him based on non-traditional stats, like number of base walks.
Beane hires Brand and together they turn the baseball world on its head, compiling a “cheap” team that goes on to have one of the longest winning streaks of all time. Though many of his old-school co-workers went with the new program kicking and screaming, in the end, his experiment caused other big league teams to adopt similar systems and changed the behind-the-scenes world of baseball.
Part of the reason Moneyball is more interesting than one of your typical sports dramas is the direction. Bennett Miller takes a rather grey, cement-enshrouded setting and gives it a little pizzazz. Some extreme angles, artistically composed close-ups, and even some archival footage and pictures peppered in go far to up the visual interest of the film.
Pitt is at his best here, though I still couldn’t detect much actual emoting from the well-seasoned actor. His Billy Beane was fun and believable, and the actor relied on a constant flow of snacks and chewing tobacco into his maw to distract from his lack of range. And it worked, as I found his portrayal entertaining enough (though the continual spitting of chew into a cup was on the cringe-worthy side).
Hill was a pleasant surprise as a mild-mannered statistician with an interest in the game of baseball. He forgoes his usual obnoxious comic character for a slightly awkward math geek, and he does it with an appealing subtlety.
Philip Seymour Hoffman (Pirate Radio) delivered another great performance as Art Howe, the gruff baseball coach unwelcoming of new changes and Chris Pratt (Parks and Recreation) presented a charming baseball player given another chance at the big leagues, despite having a confidence problem.
Though the plot centers around a new way to scout for baseball, and not the game itself, that’s not to say Moneyball entirely lacks some of that sports-movie melodrama audiences expect. There’s plenty of inspirational moments, music montages, and light humor and the ending grew quite sentimental and dragged a little.
I’d go so far as to say there was a certain amount of romanticizing baseball going on, but Moneyball did its best to distance itself from being a sports fluff piece using some gritty behind-the-scenes realism and a well-paced and accessible script. That it makes a statistical analysis method to scouting out a successful baseball pool understandable, and even entertaining, to the non-sports fan is what earns it a solid two thumbs up.