Bracingly brainy and viscerally exciting, Moneyball is a highly detailed, fascinating slice of baseball history; a solid, bustling social comedy at the 130-IQ level; and a warm, agreeable character study about the pratfalls of athletic institutions and the willingness to think outside the box. Tasteful and soulful, slick and good-looking, it’s a rousing, subtle, extraordinary hybrid of a film that lives and breathes the game; a crowd-pleasing baseball movie for people who don’t like baseball movies.
Billy Beane (Brad Pitt, Burn After Reading, Inglourious Basterds), the general manager of the Oakland A’s, has an epiphany: all of baseball’s conventional wisdom is wrong. Forced to assemble and reinvent his team on a tiny budget, Beane teams with Ivy League economist Peter Brand (Jonah Hill, Superbad, Forgetting Sarah Marshall), recruiting bargain players that the scouts call flawed, but who have an ability to get on base, score runs, and win games. Beane’s revolution puts him in the crosshairs of old school traditionalists who say he’s tearing apart the game.
While the awkward-looking, comedy sidekick Hill provides fish-out-of-water laughs, Pitt gives a genuinely searching performance. Now that he no longer has brash youth on his side, Pitt is digging deeper. Understated and woven with golden threads of movie-star style, his is the kind of acting that gives an audience more to look at than they first expect. Relaxed and edgy, cocky and nonchalant, high-strung and laid-back, Beane’s a walking contradiction, someone who is gnawed by doubts that are covered by pitching a grin or grabbing a snack.
Pitt provides ballast and a swaggering humour to the role, and it’s hard to imagine anyone else pulling it off. His performance is a canny portrait of leadership – part genius, part courage, part dumb luck – and likely to carry Pitt to the playoff round of Oscar finalists for Best Actor (though with Moneyball and The Tree of Life competing against each other, two of Pitt’s most worthy efforts could cancel each other out). The supporting cast, led by Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Savages, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead), is equally strong.
Moneyball is told with an artistry and freshness that is positively thrilling. Director Bennett Miller (Capote) takes a grey, cement-enshrouded setting and gives it pizzazz, directing elegantly, with intelligence but not flair, and letting the narrative unfold at a deliberate, artful pace. Co-writer Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing) works best at auctioneer speeds, and the deft, sharply witty script makes up for any flagging energy with crackling dialogue and performances that sing with revolutionary fervour, Pitt and Hill nailing every golden line they’re handed.
Moneyball more closely resembles the whiz-bang technomania of The Social Network than it does can-of-corn horsehide epics like Field of Dreams. It may be the first baseball film to tap into the thrill of strategizing as entertainingly as you’d hope for from a heist movie or a narrative about a chess master. It’s a baseball story that’s less about game-winning hits and more about about manipulated cause and effect and people ready to challenge the establishment.
On another level, Moneyball is about loyalty: loyalty to ideas, loyalty to partnerships forged by friendship and desperation, loyalty to values that stick with you at the end of the day. It’s a myopic metric that’s based on past accomplishments rather than future potential. After all, success isn’t about the home runs so much as getting on base – again, and again, and again. As such, Moneyball is a triumph of culturally relevant filmmaking. Whether or not you enjoy the sport in question (whether a junkie or someone who’s completely ignorant), you will enjoy Moneyball.
Agile and anti-climactic, Moneyball is a bit corny, and there’s a limit to the degree one can be romantic about sabermetrics. Yet in its own quiet, unspectacular way, Moneyball is a hilarious and provocative change-up, an altogether triumphant film about the war between statistics and intuition. It’s anything but bloodless: it’s original and coolly heady, funny and full of front-office drama, engaging without feeling the need to swing for the fences, and feels alive to its very core.
The perfect sports movie for these cash-strapped times of efficiency maximization, Moneyball may be the best baseball film since Bull Durham. And like a glistening beer under a bluebird sky, like a languorous eighth-inning stretch, like a warm summer evening, Moneyball satisfies.