In a world of competitive sports, where a power lifter can basically bench press a bulldozer by sticking a syringe in his ass cheek, it’s getting harder to believe any athlete is performing on an even playing field nowadays. Even without the ’roids, there’s always a company out there manufacturing high tops that add six inches to a basketball player’s vertical leap or polyurethane bodysuits that give swimmers increased speed and make Michael Phelps whine. Whatever the case, having an unfair advantage seems to be America’s new favorite pastime.
The difference between championship teams and teams whose fans wear paper bags over their heads, however, doesn’t always hinge on whether those 450-foot homeruns are crushed off the bats of juicers. Sometimes it helps to have a few dollars stored away in the dugout. The idea that a team’s financial status can affect whether they succeed in their sport is examined in Moneyball, an exceptionally entertaining look at the true story behind Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) and the unconventional route he took in 2002 to transform his scrappy, penniless team into a competitive ball club. Call it Bigger, Stronger, Faster, Richer.
Based on the 2003 book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis, the film follows Billy and his brainiac new assistant GM Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) as they work to keep up with the intimidating payrolls of powerhouse teams like the New York Yankees by signing ball players considered undervalued by rarely recognized analytical statistics.
If Moneyball sounds like a baseball movie for nerds, it is. There are no bottom-of-the-ninth, bases-loaded clichés and sports heroics. Instead, Academy Award-winning screenwriters Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List) and Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) dissect the game into an intriguing underdog story about one man’s belief in changing a good ol’ boy system he feels is outdated. Aficionados of the sport should admire the clubhouse access they get, especially during scenes where Billy builds his team as skillfully as a mathematician solving a proof. Pitt proves his big league worth in this winning combination of thrilling drama and cynical dialogue.
Directed by Bennett Miller, whose previous film Capote won Philip Seymour Hoffman an Oscar (he plays grumpy A’s manager Art Howe in this one), Moneyball is one of the best baseball movies ever made that’s actually not about baseball at all. With the way the game is played today, it’s nice to get something that feels so natural.
Dir. Bennett Miller; writ. Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin; feat. Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright, Chris Pratt, Stephen Bishop, Brent Jennings (PG-13)