Film Review by Kam Williams
Headline: Brad Pitt Delivers Oscar-Quality Performance in Baseball Bio-Pic
Despite this delightful bio-pic’s arriving in theaters prior to the onset of Oscar season, you can already pencil in Brad Pitt as a serious contender for an Academy Award. For he is simply sensational as Billy Beane in this emotionally-uplifting, David vs. Goliath saga revolving around the amazing run of the Oakland Athletics during the 2002 season.
The iconoclastic, A’s General Manager revolutionized baseball that year by fielding a team of lowly-touted underdogs who somehow managed to beat the odds by overachieving and reaching the playoffs. But Billy knew their feat was no fluke since there had been a mathematical method to his madness.
Based on Michael Lewis’ best-seller of the same name, Moneyball chronicles how Beane came to make roster moves relying on statistics alone in lieu of listening to scouts like the other major league franchises. Truth be told, the beleaguered GM had adopted the unorthodox approach almost out of desperation because he’d just lost three of his best players to free agency: Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon and Jason Isringhausen.
And as a small market team with modest revenues, the A’s simply couldn’t afford to match the mega-salaries being offered by perennial World Series contenders like the Yankees, Dodgers and Red Sox. So, on the advice of his nerdy, young assistant, Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), an Ivy-educated economist he’d hired away from the Cleveland Indians, Beane began to employ a state-of-the-art system of computer analysis known as Sabermetrics.
That highly-quantitative theory ignores conventional baseball wisdom, scouting reports and popular stats like batting averages and RBIs in favor of lesser-appreciated indicators like slugging and on-base percentages which apparently have a higher correlation to wins and losses. Beane strictly followed the computer’s rating of players, stocking up on underrated castoffs from other clubs nobody wanted.
However, he still had a hard time selling the strategy to his skeptical, hard-boiled manager, Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who initially refused to cooperate with what he considered a patently ridiculous innovation. But he would eventually embrace the rag-tag assortment of misfits he was handed, and lead the team to victory.
Directed by Bennett Miller, Moneyball was adapted by Academy Award-winner Aaron Sorkin (for The Social Network), a gifted storyteller with a knack for both inspired dialogue and compelling character development. Here, he deserves accolades for the way in which he humanizes his protagonist by having Billy exhibit a sincere regret over his failed marriage and the toll the divorce is taking on his emotionally-distant, 12 year-old daughter, Casey (Kerris Dorsey).
Consequently, the audience comes to care as much about the resolution of the strained father-daughter relationship as about the outcome of Oakland’s historic baseball season. How long can the A’s computer-assisted miracle season last? Will Billy and Casey ever reconcile?
A tender reminder that the heart sometimes still matters even if we now live in a technology-driven, Digital Age where machines lead and humans follow.
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity.
Running time: 133 minutes
Distributor: Columbia Pictures