Eight years in development and on its third director.
I never thought the best-selling book it was based on would translate to the big screen.
Neither did the book’s author.
But Brad Pitt did. And at this point in his career what Pitt wants, Pitt gets.
“Moneyball” the film is definitely not “Moneyball” the book. A novel that spent most of its time explaining sabermetrics, the art of using statistical computations to build a better baseball team, became a movie that devotes more time to an in-depth character study of the man who helped this mathematical revolution along in his sport, Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane.
The 2002 Oakland Athletics’ season featured 103 wins, including a thrilling AL-record 20-game win streak. It did not however feature success in the post-season. Far from it. But what the A’s did pull off caught the attention of many folks, including author Michael Lewis (“The Blind Side”), because it was mostly accomplished with a team of players no one else wanted. True, Oakland did have a trio of young arms which seemingly all blossomed at once…but outside of the mound this was a squad of athletes no one felt was athletic…except the Athletics.
After seeing “Moneyball,” my bet is you’ll ultimately decide if it touches all the bases or not based on Pitt’s portrayal of Beane, a man truly at the crossroads of his career. He has no budget to improve his team with, is losing all his best players to teams who are printing money…and he clearly needs an out-of-the-box solution to the problem. He’s also divorced…trying to be a solid dad to his young daughter…from a distance. Pitt is in literally every frame of this film, showing us a baseball executive who is as driven to be successful off the field as he was a failure on the field. Beane was one of the sport’s top prospects as a player but failed to come anywhere close to the potential the old-school scouting network said he had.
And it is that very same old-school scouting network Beane takes head on once he meets up with Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a recent Yale economics grad doing statistical analysis for another big league club.
Once Beane hears what Brand is up to, he now has his out-of-the-box solution to having very few financial options. He hires Brand away from the opposition. He becomes intellectually rich with his newly-acquired assistant, a weapon he unleashes on his organization immediately.
Watching Pitt take on a baseball establishment displaying all the arrogance you would expect out of people at your place of business when faced with a new way of doing things – “well, we’ve ALWAYS done it THIS way” – you find it very easy indeed to root for him as he slays one baseball bureaucrat after another and proves this new way of thinking is the right way to think. Who among us cannot identify with trying to unseat the arrogance of “the norm?”
As Brand, Hill turns in a solid performance as a geeky, shy math whiz who wins Beane’s character over and counsels him on how to deconstruct and rebuild his ball club using statistical trends, analysis, probabilities, etc. There is one scene in particular at baseball’s trade deadline where Beane and Brand use their combined talent to manipulate both opposing teams’ management and their own owner…a moment in the movie which is a home run regardless of your interest in baseball. The art of the deal can be appreciated by all of us as these two use their merging skill sets to “put one over” on those standing in the way of their mission to win games.
Yet Pitt, director Bennett Miller and the screenwriters definitely show their mutual concern for “Moneyball” being logged in as just another sports movie. Much effort is given to make this film completely accessible to non-sports fans. The bottom line is they took a novel mostly about baseball statistics and turned it into a motion picture mostly about one man and his struggles to forge success in an industry he was previously labeled a failure in, as well as his challenge to remain a devoted father to his daughter after a failed marriage. (Beane’s daughter is played by Kerris Dorsey, who manages to steal the spotlight from Pitt each time the two of them are on-screen together)
While there is no doubt the film could have been trimmed 20 minutes from its 2:13 running time and still have worked just as well, all the pieces are in place to recommend “Moneyball” as worth the investment. Pitt, Hill and Dorsey pull off a triple play of great performances…all made possible by the fact this movie is a little more about life…than it is about games.