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Brad Pitt Hits a Home Run with “Moneyball”

September 26, 2011

By John C.

After a successful run at the Toronto International Film Festival, director Bennet Miller’s ‘based on a true story’ drama Moneyball opened over the weekend.  As this is a movie about numbers it only seems appropriate to note that the film came in second at the box office, with estimated totals of $20.6 million.  That’s actually a pretty good start when you get down to the statistics of it all.

Especially considering that it was based on a book by Michael Lewis that was so in-depth about the world of baseball that many deemed it unfilmable save for ardent fans of the game.  But just as the author’s best-selling book The Blind Side was turned into an inspirational movie about football and family, Moneyball hits a home run of excellent writing and performances.

Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) was the general manager of the Oakland Athletics, a baseball team struggling to make it through the season.  With just under forty million dollars to spend on trading and finding new members for the team, Beane enlisted the help of Peter Brand (Jonah Hill).  Obsessed with baseball statistics and brilliant at calculating the winning odds of individual players, Brand came up with a theory that would come to be known as “moneyball.”  Using computers to determine how well each athlete played even in aspects of the game that they weren’t trained, Billy Beane and Peter Brand used their business partnership to build a successful team from the ground up.

They put together a team with an “island of misfit toys” worth of players, based purely upon affordability and athletic ability in all aspects of the game.  As he puts it, they were “card counters at the black jack table, about to turn the odds on the casino.”  With a slow start to the season and players being traded like kids with baseball cards, the Oakland A’s beat the odds as they went on to experience a record-breaking winning streak that no one could have predicted.  The moneyball experiment paid off for the players, but Billy Beane’s plans to revolutionize the game of baseball by putting together a team using mathematical equations would remain controversial.

From little mannerisms like the way that he constantly chews tobacco right through to the bittersweet final scene where the camera focuses in on his eyes, Brad Pitt is brilliant in his portrayal of the charismatic Billy Beane.  A Best Actor nomination at the Oscars doesn’t seem far off, and he deserves it every step of the way.  Along with his excellent work in The Tree of Life back in June, this is shaping up to be a strong year for the actor.  Here Pitt meets his match in Jonah Hill, who shines in a rare dramatic role that ranks as one of his best performances.  The supporting cast is also excellent, including Phillip Seymour Hoffman in a smaller but predictably strong role.

At 132-minutes, Moneyball is a film driven by often technical dialogue about how the game is played and the statistical odds of individual players.  But the excellent screenplay by Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian keeps the film moving along at an entertaining pace.  Filled with verbal exchanges between characters that are almost always realistically memorable, this is one of the better screenplays of the year.  Sorkin deservedly won an Oscar last year for the brilliant screenplay that was behind David Fincher’s Facebook drama The Social Network, and another nomination seems to be in the odds for next year’s Academy Awards.

But in the grand tradition of other great baseball movies like Bull Durham or even Field of Dreams, the film is able to be smartly heartfelt by using the game as a metaphor for life.  I liked Moneyball quite a bit, and I’m glad that regular moviegoers seem to as well.  Of course it helps if you have some understanding of the game of baseball and how it is played, but the performances and writing keep it feeling accessible to mainstream audiences.  And we can all stand up and cheer as Brad Pitt hits a home run with his excellent leading work.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Heather Von Zuben permalink
    October 1, 2011 3:12 pm

    Just saw Moneyball and loved this movie!! Great acting by all and I loved how although there are no car chases, guns blazing, and tons of special effects the story is gripping and I often was moving forward in my seat as I try to figure out what people are going to say or how they will react. and I loved the song the little girl sings during the movie and again at the end of the movie. I recommend this movie!

    Like

    • October 1, 2011 3:36 pm

      Really glad that you also enjoyed Moneyball. I agree – it’s great to see a movie that is entirely driven by sharp dialogue and doesn’t rely on tons of action to move the story forward. Here’s hoping Brad Pitt gets an Oscar nomination for his excellent performance.

      Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts on the film!

      -John C.

      Like

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