by Tim Ross
If you watch televised sports, you know the commentators, play-by-play broadcasters and athletes all resort to sports clichés to describe the games. The same can hold true for critics talking about sports films. You’ve been warned.
“Moneyball” plays like an exciting baseball game on a perfect summer night, and you can imagine your popcorn is a bag of peanuts as Brad Pitt and a solid supporting cast tell the true story of a team that changed the way professional baseball is played.
Pitt plays Billy Beane, the real-life general manager of the Oakland Athletics. When we first meet Beane, it’s 2001 and the A’s have made it to the playoffs. Unfortunately, they get bounced in the first round and, in an annual rite familiar to baseball fans, the big teams in the league raid the A’s roster and buy their stars away.
Beane is left with a shell of the team he had and he’s told he’ll have barely a quarter of the money most teams have to rebuild. Beane is confronted with a no-win situation and Pitt wears those burdens well. His performance is nuanced and subtle – he takes Beane’s journey one base at a time and the pace at which we learn Beane’s truest desires feels just right.
Based on Michael Lewis’ book of the same name, “Moneyball” focuses on two compelling characters. Of course there’s Beane, a couldn’t-miss high school prospect who chose a baseball contract over college, which put a hold on realizing his true potential. And there’s Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), based on baseball executive Paul DePodesta, whose belief in a new set of statistical measurements to evaluate players, called sabermetrics, changed the game forever.
Once Beane and Brand team up, the film becomes more about two pioneers attempting to beat the system and less about baseball, and that’s a good thing. Themes of perseverance, family responsibility and courage in the face of great odds all get a turn at bat, but nothing is forced and nobody hits into a double play.
Jonah Hill plays a nice foil as the eager, number-crunching Harvard grad to Pitt’s world-weary divorcee with a bag full of responsibilities. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is effective as the stubborn A’s Manager Art Howe, although he doesn’t look the part as much as I’d like. Robin Wright is underused as Beane’s ex. Special mention should go to Kerris Dorsey at Pitt’s daughter, Casey. She and Pitt have several wonderful scenes together that help steer Pitt’s character in the right direction without being heavy-handed.
Even non-sports fans will cheer this film because its themes are universal: Fighting for something you believe in, believing in something besides the almighty dollar and holding an unwavering faith against great odds.
If “Moneyball” isn’t a home run, it’s most certainly a stand-up triple in the gap. If you don’t know what the means, head to your local theater and find out.
Grade: 3 1/2 out of 4
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some strong language
Cast: Brad Pitt, Robin Wright, Jonah Hill
Studio: Columbia Pictures