TMN Sports Movie Review: "Moneyball"

Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures

Rating: PG-13
Length: 133 minutes
Release Date: Sept. 23, 2011
Directed by: Bennett Miller
Genre: Biography / Drama / Sport

Everyone from die-hard baseball fans to those who can’t name the last four World Series winners can find something to enjoy in Bennett Miller’s “Moneyball,” based on the book by Michael Lewis. The film details the events of the 2002 season of the Oakland A’s and the attempts of general manager Billy Beane to bring home a championship on an extremely tight budget. While the technical details may get a bit confusing for baseball neophytes at times, the script does a good job explaining things in terms anyone can follow. By the end, even non-fans should be able to understand just why so many people are captivated by baseball.

Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane, a former player and current general manager seeking that ever-elusive last win of the season. While trying to trade for players to beef up his roster, he meets Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), an economics major with a curious amount of pull in the Cleveland Indians organization. Brand introduces Beane to the concept of sabermetrics, a mathematical technique of analyzing players. Brand believes he can use it to create a capable team out of less-than-stellar rookies and veterans past their prime. By focusing on the most basic statistics, such as on-base percentage, Brand is able to find undervalued players that he thinks will work well together on the field.

Beane brings Brand into the A’s organization, where the new and unconventional approach to team building alienates the team's long-suffering crew of talent scouts. Manager Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is first among Beane’s adversaries, refusing to field the players Brand chooses and doing his best to run the team according to his own experience and rules. It’s only through sheer force of will that Beane and Brand manage to sculpt the team to fit their ideals, betting it all on Brand’s analysis. Ultimately, they get their chance to prove whether their system works once and for all.

Hardcore baseball wonks will find plenty to love in this movie. “Moneyball” follows the real-life exploits of Beane and the A’s during one of the most remarkable seasons in the team’s history, and there’s plenty of technical baseball jargon to please die-hard fans. However, at every turn, Brand’s ability to break things down into economic and mathematical terms will help those unfamiliar with the nation’s pastime follow along. By the second act, fans and non-fans alike will be caught up in Beane’s heartfelt quest to turn around his struggling ball club.

The film rides on amazing performances from an amazing cast. Brad Pitt’s Beane is right out of Robert Redford’s playbook, and Jonah Hill shows off his serious acting skills as the awkward but earnest Peter Brand. Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Art Howe is the perfect foil to Beane’s aspirations, a by-the-book manager who’s got no interest in a new way of doing things, whether or not it might be the key to ultimate victory. Robin Wright plays Beane’s ex-wife, and Chris Pratt, Casey Bond, Stephen Bishop and Royce Clayton take roles as some of the players on Beane’s dream team. Kerris Dorsey is a revelation as Beane’s daughter Casey, always there to offer advice and moral support for her father even when things aren’t going his way. Her inspired and heartwarming cover of Lenka’s “The Show” is the highlight of the soundtrack, featuring a score by Mychael Danna.

“Moneyball” offers audiences a peek into the sometimes arcane world of baseball management. Some of the best scenes are when Beane and Brand are wheeling and dealing to try to get a player who will fill a particular niche. The pair plays other teams off against each other in order to seal a deal on their extremely limited budget. One of the film’s funniest moments involves Brand closing a deal with the team owner and performing the most awkward pantomime of victory ever seen on the big screen.

In the end, what “Moneyball” may do best is explain just why this game is so compelling to those caught up in it season after season. Throughout the film, the one common thread to every performance is just how much all of these various players and managers love the game, and what each is willing to do to remain part of the “big show.” In the film’s coda, Beane and Brand go over footage from a minor-league game in which a particularly remarkable event occurred. Touched, Beane intones, “How can you not be romantic about baseball?” After the events of “Moneyball,” everyone in the audience should understand exactly what he means.