2 Hrs., 13 Mins.
Moneyball is a sports movie in which sports do not reign as a form of entertainment but a form of business. It focuses on the dog days of the Oakland A’s, beginning in 2001 following a losing streak and a punishing loss to the New York Yankees. Their hard luck is no matter of coincidence but because of a lack of budget, of players not thoroughly analyzed by scouts looking for new talents. Most employees have given up, continuing regular business as if nothing is off. General manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), a former ball player himself, is the only staff member bothered by the team’s inability to make a name for themselves in a world where money can make or break you.
Three of the team’s most skilled faces are leaving after the season ends, and where Beane’s colleagues are perfectly content looking at materialistic facts about potential players instead of digging deep into statistics, he is inclined to build a winning team against the odds. Their budget is less than shoestring, so what if the A’s buy talent evident but ignored for various shallow reasons? Driven to make his plan an unequalled success, he hires Peter Brand (an exceptional Jonah Hill), a brilliant recent economics graduate, to scrutinize prospective players mathematically. The plan seems foolproof — but the road to the eventual record twenty game winning streak is a rocky one.
I was surprised by how involving Moneyball is, which is, at its heart, a film rooted in the cerebral. Numbers and statistics wrap around its exterior, an intellectual but entertaining look at the world of sports. Yet its emotional content is stunning — Beane is a compelling protagonist, a man bitten by the bug of champions but also haunted by a past baseball career where winning was never a reality. In his present, where he is divorced and with a lovely daughter (Kerris Dorsey), he wants to make up for the failures traveling in his wake by any means possible. He is cynical and he is smart, but the vulnerability shining through his wizened exterior is conspicuous the moment he stops talking sports and lets himself loose. He never watches a game — he would rather work out, drive miles away, than watch a game in the prison that is a stadium seat. His confidence is next to none. Pitt is mesmerizing.
The screenplay, written by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, is snappy and wry, funny but only because its humanity is so true to life — they assemble as many witty exchanges and convincing encounters as they do characters we can understand, live through. Miller’s direction is unforced, reminiscent of a documentary where life seems to unfold before us. To not connect with the film is an impossibility.
It is a feat that a movie as subversive as Moneyball (a sports movie not really about sports, a film statistically inhibited but also emotionally stimulating) is such a riveting experience. An interest in sports does not matter here — at its core, Moneyball is about self-discovery, of overcoming odds against one’s favor, and it’s fascinating. B+