Directed by: Bennett Miller
Written by: Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin and Stan Chervin
Starring: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Chris Pratt
Not every movie has to be an Oscar darling. Sometimes a picture can be successful just by achieving its goals and telling its story well. MONEYBALL is one of those movies. It’s not going to be a Best Picture winner but that doesn’t deny its greatness.
MONEYBALL is the story of Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) and his attempt to change the game. One year after a painful loss to The Yankees, Beane is looking for a new path to victory. His minimal team budget can’t compete with the big boys in New York or Boston so Beane is hoping to do a lot more with a lot less. When he meets numbers cruncher Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), Beane finds his new way. Brand is an economics major who truly understands the numbers of baseball. With Brand’s advice and analysis, Beane decides to invest his slim budget in the players other teams don’t want. Brand describes these athletes as “the island of misfit toys”. They consist of unorthodox, unattractive and past-their-prime guys. But they can hit the ball and make runs and that’s all that matters. They are Beane’s only hope. They’re his last hope.
MONEYBALL is an underdog story set against the backdrop of major league baseball. However, there’s a lot of talk about numbers and strategy in the film and that’s one of its strongest aspects. A brilliant scene with Beane trying to sell and buy players flows magically, Brand’s description of his method feels natural and enticing, chart after chart of RBI and hit percentages aren’t boring but engaging.
But it’s not only the inside baseball business that plays well in MONEYBALL. Several strong performances from Pitt, Hill, Hoffman and Pratt elevate the material and give you more of a reason to give a damn about the characters. Pitt especially delivers, playing Beane with brilliant, charming leading man quality. He makes some fabulous choices with the character. Instead of portraying Beane as an angry, unhinged guy, he plays him an exhausted, desperate and somewhat flippant employee out of money and ideas. When he’s trying to sell his new method of baseball, he’s doing it because it’s all he’s got, he’s at the end of his rope. There are several scenes when Beane is trying to convince the old timers that Brand’s path is the way to a championship. His demeanor, body language and overall attitude are pitch perfect. Anyone who has ever been sick of losing will relate with Beane. This is Pitt at his best.
There are a minor missteps in MONEYBALL. I feel like the film was this close to exploring some very fascinating character elements. Beane was a promising baseball player before his career fell apart. This collapse leads him to hate and fear failure. While this part of his personality is touched upon, I feel as though there is a little missing. We get to spend time with Beane and his adorable daughter (Kerris Dorsey) but these scenes don’t illuminate Beane aside from showing him as a good dad. More time devoted to Beane’s fear of rejection and failure would have been time well spent. As for Brand, we don’t get to know him at all. I wondered about him, about his love of baseball and his decision to enter the sport after studying economics at Yale. While exploring him would have added several extra minutes to the film I think it would have been fascinating.
But there’s little to complain about with MONEYBALL. The movie performs flawlessly, like a prime baseball team coached to perfection. There’s a solid script, a wonderful plot, terrific performances and direction that doesn’t overwhelm the story. And it’s an underdog story, one that everyone can get behind and cheer for. MONEYBALL isn’t the movie of the year, it isn’t this year’s THE SOCIAL NETWORK, but it’s a damn fine film.