Bennett Miller’s Moneyball, based on the best-selling book by Michael Lewis, is an especially unlikely candidate to hit a home run as a baseball movie. I say unlikely, simply because this story spends such little time actually on the baseball field.
But, although this is as front office as sports fare can get, Moneyball emerges as one of the more riveting sports films in recent memory. Really, how many flicks dive into the nuances of how the game really works? The jostling of the scouts, the power struggles, the balancing of the books, the piecing together of the club, the locker room fireworks, etc. It’s fascinating stuff, when done well. And make no mistake, Moneyball does it very, very well.
The plot follows Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt) through the club’s memorable 2002 season. After choking in the ’01 divisional playoffs to the wealthier, more powerful Yankees (New York stormed back from a 2-0 deficit to win the series, 3 games to 2), Beane and his crew are faced with the task of losing many of their guns to free agency, yet still trying to compete with a bargain basement allowance.
Knowing full well the system of finding the most talented athletes and throwing cash at them is flawed, Beane charts a different course for his team. Recruiting an Ivy League graduate (Jonah Hill), a whiz with computers and statistics, the GM attempts to rebuild the A’s by using other team’s cast-offs (rejected for various reasons, from age to injuries), so long as they come cheap and can get on base. It doesn’t matter if Oakland has to walk its way to the pennant, just so long as they win, Beane will take it.
The problem with this new system? It’s new. The dinosaurs of baseball simply refuse to stand for tinkering with a formula that has been in place for over 100 years. And thus, you have your behind-the-scenes drama.
I won’t spoil the ending. Shoot, you could Wikepedia the Oakland Athletics and find out how it all comes together for yourself. Just know that Moneyball is a winner. Pitt brings a genuine human element to the lead role; you don’t overly love Billy Beane, which is probably an impossible emotion to feel in regards to a major league baseball executive anyway, but you empathize with his struggles, you cheer for him on the home stretch and you relate to his desire to not necessarily win, but to make a mark, both professionally and as a dad (and by the way, Kerris Dorsey steals every scene she’s a part of as Beane’s daughter).
Director Miller (Capote), has a good eye too. Moneyball is one good looking film too. You don’t even have to enjoy the game of baseball to like it. But it doesn’t hurt.
Out of a possible five stars, I’ll give Moneyball a four and a half. The feature is currently playing at the Pen-Mar Cinema Centre in Penticton.
Jason Armstrong is a movie reviewer living and watching films in the Okanagan.