Moneyball (2011)

Brad Pitt stars as Billy Beane, the passionate general manager of the Oakland A’s, in the Oscar-nominated sports drama Moneyball.

“It’s hard not to get romantic about baseball.” —Billy Beane, in Moneyball

Romance is the least of the elements portrayed in the new film Moneyball, and yet the movie still manages to play to the parts of the game that seduce and charm us. Don’t be fooled, though. Moneyball is a far cry from the romanticized visions of America’s pastime that we have seen in such films as Field of Dreams and Bull Durham. Instead, Moneyball is about the business of baseball, about numbers and statistical analysis. It is an economic lesson plan on how to run a small-market baseball team. As if baseball weren’t boring enough, right?

But that’s the thing. Baseball isn’t boring. There is no other game that has so much going on at any given moment than baseball. There are little things happening everywhere, even when it seems nothing is happening at all. And the point of Moneyball is that all of these little things can be measured. And all of those measurements can be analyzed. And if your analysis of all the measurements is better than your opponent’s, you’ve got the advantage. And that puts you in the better position to win.

And, surprisingly, a movie that analyzes this analysis is not boring either. It’s not a shock to learn that Moneyball is co-written by Aaron Sorkin, the same writer who made a movie about computer nerds writing code compelling, because he has a gift of making ordinarily mind-numbing pursuits seem exciting. I wouldn’t go so far as to say Moneyball is an exciting film, but it is a fascinating one, even for someone who had already read the book and knew all of the ideas and theories that drive the story.

And that’s why Moneyball works. Because it tells a really great story. It’s not a story about winning, it’s not even a story about baseball. It’s about believing in something. It’s the story of Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt) and his commitment to a way of putting a team together that flies in the face of traditional baseball thinking. Oakland can’t compete on a financial level, so they must compete another way. And when he meets fresh-outta-Yale stats analyst Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), who convinces him that picking a player based solely on stats is the fresh way to fielding a winning (and cheap) team, Beane begins a quest to prove to people, especially himself, that his instincts are right.

It’s a strange thing, to say a movie about watching a guy do his job is compelling. But this isn’t an ordinary job and this isn’t an ordinary field. And Beane’s connection and history with his chosen profession makes for a human dramatic element that director Bennett Miller and screenwriters Steven Zaillian and Sorkin (with story by Stan Chervin, based on the book by Michael Lewis) mine perfectly. And Pitt nails it. He plays Beane with a controlled fury, revealing any emotional baggage in subtle, carefully crafted moments. Pitt is pretty bare here, with no gimmicks or tricks to fall back on, and he is revealed to be a sincere and genuine actor who still has a charm on screen that would make George Clooney envious.

It’s hard not to like Pitt in this film. But who I was surprised to like was Jonah Hill, who I normally find grating and obnoxious. Here, however, Hill shows one thing I’ve never seen from him: restraint. He and Pitt make a very interesting pair onscreen and their relationship is a big part of why this movie works so well.

What also works is the lack of idealism. Baseball is a game, but it’s also a business. What I loved the most about Moneyball was seeing the game I love broken down into pieces and understanding how they all work together.

But, in the end, it is the human element that makes Moneyball the—pardon the pun—home run that it is. Every statistic eventually breaks down to a human being on the other end of it and it’s how those players react and perform as part of the giant chess match known as baseball that really decides who wins and loses.

If you aren’t a fan of baseball, you have to see Moneyball—to see what you’re missing. And if you do love baseball, you have to see Moneyball—-to see what you’re missing.