Ealasaid/ September 27, 2011/ Movie Reviews and Features

Directed by: Bennett Miller
Starring: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Chris Pratt, Robin Wright, Stephen Bishop
Rated: PG-13 for some strong language

A movie about the pioneering use of cost-benefit analysis in baseball shouldn’t be exciting, but somehow, “Moneyball” is. It traces the efforts of general manager Billy Beane to turn around the failing Oakland A’s using the statistics knowhow of Yale economics geek Peter Brand. For all its math geekery and talking, it’s really an underdog sports movie. This is a flick that will crack you up and make you clutch your armrest in equal measure.

Part of what makes “Moneyball” work is the acting. Beane was a ballplayer himself once, and Brad Pitt brings a lot of physicality to his performance. Beane is almost always moving — gesturing, getting out of his chair to lean over his desk and talk into a speakerphone, throwing things when he’s mad — and when he’s still, it’s for a reason. Even better, Pitt’s comedic timing isn’t news to anybody who’s seen him in films like “Burn After Reading,” and it’s in full force here. The man knows how to be serious and how to be funny, and when to flex which acting muscle.

Jonah Hill seems born to play Brand, who knows he’s no athlete and knows he has almost no experience, but also knows in his bones that his math is right, and that his system will work. Hill has solid comic chops too, and his scenes with Pitt are a lot of fun.

In 2002, the Oakland A’s had just lost their top three players, and were working with a budget that was less than a third the size of the bankroll teams like the Yankees had access to. The A’s desperately needed good players, but couldn’t afford them — the teams that could pay better kept snapping up the guys with talent, leaving the A’s in the dust. Beane meets Brand almost by chance, but knows the kid is onto something and brings him aboard. Beane throws everyone for a loop by backing the statistics-driven approach Brand has developed in the face of resistance from his entire scouting staff and the team’s manager (Philip Seymour Hoffman, whose dry, phlegmatic performance is a delight). It’s a thrill watching Beane put everything on the line, his flashbacks to his own career giving him faith that scouts don’t know everything, and that a new approach could really work.

Whether you know how the 2002 season played out or not, “Moneyball” is a fascinating, exciting film. Beane has to fight everyone else in the A’s management except Brand to get his way, even resorting to incredibly foolhardy moves to do it. The team he and Brand assemble is made up of has-beens, rookies with weird habits, and once-solid players who got injured and can’t play their old positions. By the old baseball metrics, they are a doomed clubhouse, but Beane and Brand believe — and we do, too.

If you hate sports movies, this is probably not a film for you, but otherwise don’t let the implied mathiness of the flick put you off. This is a movie about the two men who completely changed the way baseball approaches choosing players, challenging the wisdom and methods used for over a century and forging a new path that gave guys who otherwise would never have had a shot a chance to play in the big leagues. This is a movie for people who like underdogs, who like watching people break the mold, and who think the idea of an econ nerd and an outcast pro ball team GM teaming up is not just believable, but awesome.

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