In the early 2000’s the Oakland A’s had just lost three of their big name stars and the small market team was in trouble in terms of continuing to compete in a league where they could be outspent by more than $100 by the likes of the New York Yankees. A’s General Manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) knew something had to change.
Hiring an assistant (Jonah Hill) who believed the team could compete by relying on sabermetrics (created by Bill James) rather than traditional models of building a team, Beane became an innovator by showcasing how a small market team could compete against the big boys.
The film begins with the playoff loss to the Yankees in 2001 and follows the rocky course of Beane instituting a completely new way of thinking to the old school baseball front office scouts and staff. The film highlights the early struggles and eventual success of the team over the 2002 season as well as focus on Beane’s relationship with his daughter (Kerris Dorsey).
Simply put, Moneyball is everything you want a sports movie to be. It’s well-written, cast with good actors, paced well, the sports moments aren’t allowed to overwhelm the drama, and it’s emotionally moving without feeling hackneyed or cliched. Director Bennett Miller and sceenwriters Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin (who adapted Michael Lewis’ book) deserve a stadium full of applause. And it’s the classic tale of the underdog making good. After all, everyone loves the underdog.
Pitt is terrific in the lead role that’s about so much more than baseball and Jonah Hill proves (when he wants to be) he can be far less annoying on-screen than his usual characters. Philip Seymour Hoffman draws the short straw in his role of Art Howe, the team’s manager who fights Beane’s new philosophy throughout the team’s early struggles. It would have been nice if the script had included a scene between the pair during the team’s victories as well. The baseball players are well-cast and look natural on-screen, but with one or two exceptions (Chris Pratt, Stephen Bishop) aren’t individually all that memorable.
The movie does take a few liberties with the story, mostly for dramatic effect. Beane’s predecessor Sandy Alderson (not shown in the film) had already started using sabermetrics to discover undervalued talent before Beane ever became the team’s GM. However, it is true Beane’s all-in attitude took the process to an entirely different level. I also thought it odd that Bill James was credited but the name of his statistical method was never itself named over the course of the film.
The film’s most dramatic sequence involves the team’s unprecedented winning streak that also reinforces Beane’s insecurities and personal doubts. The final moments of the film, giving us a glimpse of choices made after the 2002 season work well, but the film’s emotional peak comes during this sequence.
Moneyball is the feel-good story of the Fall that fans of good drama, not just baseball, should enjoy. Of course, if you are a baseball fan that’s certainly not going to hurt your chances of having a darn good time at the movies.