Brad Pitt as Billy Beane
Jonah Hill as Peter Brand
Robin Wright as Sharon
Philip Seymour Hoffman as Art Howe
Chris Pratt as Scott Hatteberg
Stephen Bishop as David Justice
Casey Bond as Chad Bradford
Nick Porrazzo as Jeremy Giambi
Kathryn Morris as Tara Beane
Tammy Blanchard as Elizabeth Hatteberg
Glenn Morshower as Hopkins
Sergio Garcia as Jorge Posada
Kerris Dorsey as Casey Beane
Bill Ensley as Security Guard
Royce Clayton as Miguel Tejada
Adrian Bellani as Carlos Peña
Reed Thompson as Young Billy Beane
Art Ortiz as Eric Chavez
Takayo Fischer as Suzanne
Marvin Horn as Terrence Long
Chris McGarry as Ed Wade
Ari Zagaris as Jim Mecir
James Shanklin as Billy’s Father
David Hutchison as John Mabry
Erich Hover as Larry Sutton
Derrin Ebert as Mike Magnante
Eric West as Ron Perez
Melvin Perdue as Ray Durham
Directed by Bennett Miller
After a debilitating loss to the Yankees in 2001, the Oakland A’s lose three of their star players leaving their general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) trying to find a way to fill his roster and create a winning team with a meager amount of money. Along comes Yale economics major Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) who has some unconventional ideas on how to pick up undervalued players and train them to become a winning team, creating tension between Beane and the team’s main manager Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman).
Who knows whether you need to be a tried and true baseball fan to appreciate Michael Lewis’ book about baseball statistics and trading players, but it certainly couldn’t hurt, because it’s the one part of Brad Pitt’s new movie that’s probably going to leave a lot of non-fans with a glazed look on their eyes. If that’s you, the guy or girl who has never watched a single baseball game in your life and don’t know your balls from your strikes, never fear, because there’s still quite a lot to enjoy about this comedy that’s as unconventional to the baseball movie as Beane’s ideas were to the sport.
When we meet Brad Pitt’s Billy Beane, general manager of the A’s, he’s at his wit’s end, trying to get enough money from the owner to put together a decent team and facing veteran scouts with decades of experience who refuse to look at the difficult job of filling up the roster in a new light. Billy’s desperate attempt to get players from the Detroit Tigers puts him in touch with the 25-year-old Yale graduate Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) who uses his economics background to figure out a new way to recruit players. The idea is that the most important aspect of winning is to get on base, whether it’s via hitting or walking, and Brand has figured out a way to go through the statistics to discern which players are being overlooked and thereby can be drafted on the cheap. Billy is a convert and he instantly comes to odds with the scouts and the team’s manager (Philip Seymour Hoffman) as they try to put together a team for the new season using this method.
Though he looks somewhat scruffy when we first see him, Brad Pitt ends up morphing into a character that looks eerily like a younger Robert Redford, an actor who has done his fair share of baseball movies. He pulls out every ounce of charm and emotion for his performance as Billy Beane, and the results are another… oh, we honestly do apologize for this one… home run for the actor. It’s fairly easy to empathize with a guy who had so much potential but who didn’t quite reach the brass ring, and that is mostly present when Beane is alone, but more than anything else, the character thrives on Pitt’s charisma and confidence when he’s around others.
Pitt’s interaction with Jonah Hill, giving a played-down performance as a numbers man, is probably the part of the movie that’s going to be the most easily enjoyable to non-sports fans; it’s certainly a very odd pairing that works better than some might expect. The actors playing the new ball players on the team range from Chris Pratt’s Scott Hatteberg, the new first baseman who lacks confidence, to the over-the-hill outfielder David Justice, played by Stephen Bishop. They’re both quite good although they get a fairly small amount of screen time compared to their importance to this particular story. Philip Seymour Hoffman brings just the right amount of gruffness to the role of Bean’s biggest hurdle, although his character is noticeably absent going into the last act when things start looking up.
What tends to be missing at least up until the third act is the sort of honest human emotion that those who don’t play or follow sports can relate to. When it does try to rectify the analytical nature of the movie by introducing Billy’s 12-year-old daughter, It just feels too forced, like they’re trying too hard to make Billy’s family relations a bigger part of the movie than it needs to be.
Even so, Bennett Miller is an extremely competent filmmaker and having the likes of (Oscar-winning) DP Wally Pfister on his side certainly doesn’t hurt, as they find a way to make a movie mostly set in the offices of a baseball field visually appealing. At times, one wonders whether producer Mike De Luca completely ignored Beane’s ideas when putting together a supergroup to bolster the material post-Soderbergh, including screenwriters Steven Zaillian and (Oscar-winner) Aaron Sorkin, as well as (Oscar-winning) producer Scott Rudin. At times, the film’s desire to be “The Social Network”–another drama based on a non-fiction book, though based on far less difficult material to translate–is a bit too obvious, most noticeable in composer Mychael Danna’s use of similar musical themes and textures. (Oddly, Danna is part of the crew Miller brought over from “Capote” along with Hoffman.)
Even so, the script is exemplary–you can almost tell which conversations were contributed by (Oscar-winning) screenwriter Aaron Sorkin–and it works in ways one could never imagine by reading Lewis’ rather cumbersome book. Most of the ideas and tangents are at least touched upon in the film, but it remodels them into a structure that’s far easier to follow and swallow, while remaining more focused on the people and players than the numbers.
As much as “Moneyball” is like no other baseball movie we’ve seen, it still ends up following a fairly traditional sports drama formula where things seem get pretty bad and then worse, but then suddenly things are all turning around as the A’s are on their way to set a new winning streak. Even if this really happened in real life, it’s a little hard to believe.
The Bottom Line:
“Moneyball” is a movie that lives or dies by its killer screenwriting and the equally satisfying performance by Brad Pitt, and there’s little doubt it wouldn’t have worked even in the slightest without both those elements in place. It may not feel quite like the classic baseball movie others have achieved, but it’s certainly pleasant enough to be enjoyable even by non-sports fans.