Playing “Moneyball” is a term used to describe a baseball team that bases its roster on player statistics in terms of stolen bases, on-base percentage, runs batted in, slugging percentage and batting average. These statistics allow for a team with less financial backing to recruit players that, for any number of reasons, have been ignored when it came down to the drafts. It lets a team such as the Oakland Athletics, with $41 million dollars in salary, compete with others like the New York Yankees, who boast a salary of over $125 million. A team with a giant salary can buy out all the star players for their own roster in a way that no other can. It’s just one reason it’s so easy to hate the Yankees.
The movie is based on the Michael Lewis book, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, which detailed the 2001-2002 season of the Oakland Athletics with their general manager Billy Beane, who decided to use this method as a way of competing despite their overwhelming financial disadvantage. It’s an incredibly interesting story, whether you’re a fan of baseball or not. Part of what makes this movie so engaging is the new and different side of the baseball world that’s depicted (who’d have thought it’d be the business side?). The story follows the game from the view point of the general manager, whose job has him buying, trading, and cutting players from the team at a moments notice. Given the financial limits imposed on his ability to do his job, being successful at this turns out to be a daunting task. The concept of playing “Moneyball” becomes a final chance to compete and possibly change the way the entire system operates. The non-conventional sabermetric approach to scouting their teams’ players is so far out of the ordinary that Billy Beane and his assistant Peter Brand have to go against heavy opposition which includes not only the press reports, but their own staff as well (including the Athletics manager, Art Howe).
|Peter Brand (Jonah Hill)|
The script, written by Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, is incredibly smart and makes what could have easily been a boring topic seem fresh and entertaining. I stress the intelligence in the way this script is handled because this topic, though made accessible to mainstream audiences (whether they're baseball fanatics or like me, not), doesn't condescend to those who are obsessed with player stats and numbers. I could easily see this movie appealing to hardcore sports fans. To add to the sharp dialogue, the film has a lot of really good performances with well developed characters that seem believable in their roles. Brad Pitt is very effective as Billy Beane, the general manager and a failed former player whose career was overestimated by scouts. This left a strong impact on his life and the way he sees the game. It’s a good role for him and one of his better performances. The supporting cast is a real highlight with Philip Seymour Hoffman as Art Howe, who could look convincing as literally anything, and Jonah Hill, who displays a good deal of range as the inexperienced Peter Brand. Even with all the numbers flying around, the story maintains a strong focus on the human aspect of managing a professional baseball team. The weight of the responsibility falls heavily on the shoulders of Billy Beane and he’s a sympathetic character. Interspersed throughout the film are several flashbacks revealing his decision to go professional instead of getting a college degree. Every time the Athletics lose a game, it feels like a crushing blow to him emotionally.
This is Bennet Miller’s first film since 2005’s Capote, and he proves once again that he knows how to tell a personal and involving story. Moneyball is smart, thought provoking, and depicts a side of professional baseball that few others are willing to delve into. It tells its story with intelligent writing and sympathetic characters, but it does something else I found surprising. On several occasions it had me rooting for the