A Home Run
Because of its main theme -- a baseball team out of funds -- Moneyball could have been boring, especially considering today’s daily economic news coverage. Fortunately, writers Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin have elevated this true story adapted from Michael Lewis' 2003 book, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game to a smart film which should be enjoyed by a wide audience. Director Bennett Miller’s (Capote) vision creates a story far more dramatic than the book, so the movie never becomes a score board. Lead actor Brad Pitt adds even more validation concerning why Moneyball may appear on several upcoming Academy-Award nomination lists.
Billy Beane (Pitt), a quiet worrier, is a family man now divorced who sees his daughter only on visiting days. He’s also a washed-up baseball star currently serving as general manager and a minority owner of the Oakland Athletics. Billy has plenty to worry about in the upcoming 2002 season. The team lost their most valuable payers -- Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon and Jason Isringhausen -- and the owner lacks money to pay big salaries.
As the old scouts sit around a room debating which players to acquire for the new season, a funny -- or irritating, depending on your outlook -- moment takes place when they begin to consider players by how their wives look! Billy has a surprise for them. He’s just met Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a recent Yale grad and an economics genius who has dissected the game of baseball like a surgeon. Not quite sold on Brand’s explanations about not focusing on high salary players but instead on stats that make little sense, Billy throws this idea out. The men look at him like he’s trying to sell a whale to a zoo. After Billy assures them he’s not asking but telling them that everything about their season picks is about to change, most jump ship.
Billy soon appears to have stepped on a mine because no one is supporting him except Peter. The team loses games because the players don’t get it, and manager Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman) not only thinks Billy has lost it, but adamantly refuses to follow his orders on where to place certain players.
Pitt’s portrayal of Billy ends up far from any pretty-boy roles that come to mind, and it’s obvious why he hung on for the years it took to finally get a green light for Moneyball. Pitt methodically brings to the screen every moment of angst plaguing Billy. Because he does this so well it’s easy to feel Billy’s pain. Every decision Billy makes seems quickly arrived at – that is until we glimpse him in deep thought while straddled on a bunch of bleacher chairs or turning around midway on a highway because his daughter Casey (Kerris Dorsey) tells him he needs to be at a game. And then we realize that Billy puts his heart into every decision he makes.
Hoffman’s role may not be worthy of a bow like many he’s played before, but Moneyball belongs to Pitt, so that’s fine with me. As the young girl who worries about her dad losing everything, Dorsey gives a sweet performance. She does a great job singing Lenka's “The Show.” The lyrics “I’m just a little girl lost in the moment” mirror the expressions on Dorsey’s intuitive face.
Hill comes across as thoroughly entertaining here. Movie fans who don’t know him from Get Him to the Greek or Superbad will not forget this outstanding performance. Hill hits the self-prescribed geek on the head, makes us laugh when he’s stone-faced and perplexed and adore him every time his character has Billy’s back.
Non-baseball fans need not worry about an excessive amount of baseball play in this movie. Moneyball balances humor, a heartfelt story and an inspirational true event that brings everyone to the handrail cheering, clapping, and surprised by some real baseball trivia.
(Released by Columbia Pictures and rated “PG-13” for some strong language.)
Review also posted at www.reviewexpress.com.