© 2011 Ray Wong
As far as sports movies are concerned, Moneyball is surprisingly serious, thoughtful and intelligent.
Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) has a tough season ahead: his budget has been slashed, and he has to replace three star players. With the lowest salary constraint, Billy must find a different way to build a team that will keep the club alive, if not to win the World Series. His revelation comes in the form of a Yale graduate named Peter Brand (Jonah Hill).
Using his sharp analytic skills and a computer-generated model, Peter advices Billy to forget about all the traditional factors but focus only on the numbers. Billy is impressed with Peter's approach and hires him as his assistant. They have a hard time selling their system, however. Especially coach Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who believes Billy is out of his mind and trying to run the club, and his own career, to the ground.
Brad Pitt (The Tree of Life) is charismatic and down to earth as Billy Beane, a former Major League top pick who flamed out without reaching his potential and fulfilling the expectations. The character is smart (he did, after all, get accepted by Stanford) and thoughtful, but carries plenty of baggage with him. Pitt is able to convey the complexity and his portrayal is careful and earnest.
Jonah Hill (Get Him to the Greek) surprises in a role so unlike his previous. No, he doesn't get to play a handsome romantic lead, but as egghead Peter Brand, he actually shows some range. His performance is measured and convincing as the reserved, shy and intelligent young man. Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Ides of March) is solid as the A's head coach. His resistance to change and resentment leap off the screen, but you know his reasons and you get to sympathize.
Robin Wright (The Conspirator) is good as Billy's supportive and understanding ex-wife, offering a nice counterpoint to the male-heavy drama. Chris Pratt (Jennifer's Body) is excellent in his role as Scott Hatteberg, a seriously undervalued baseball player who desperately needs a confidence boost. Stephen Bishop (The Town) also impresses as a "has-been" who wants to prove that he's still got it.
Written by Stephen Zaillian (All the King's Men) and Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network), the script is gritty and serious, reminding me of yet another great sports film also adapted from a top nonfiction book, Friday Night Lights. There are enough baseball terms and concepts that would delight the fans and confuse the non-fans, but the writers keep the story relatively simple and comprehensible. You don't need a degree in baseball to know what is going on. What is most affecting is the characters' struggle to prove themselves and survive, if not to win. That's something universal; we can all relate.
The plot unfolds slowly and organically, with enough twists to keep us on edge. Yet the story doesn't subscribe to the tiresome trademarks of a crowd-pleasing "triumph." There are no mood-lifting anthems or trite morale-boosting speeches. Instead, it's filled with smaller, intimate human moments that keep the story real and relatable.
Bennett Miller's (Capote) direction also helps to keep everything real. His no-frill direction focuses on the characters and the experiences, instead of being rousing and glorified. What has transpired is a solid film about obstacles, perseverance and doing what is right vs. what is expected.
With good writing, solid performances and a realistic execution, the movie is right on the money.
Stars: Brat Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright, Chris Pratt, Stephen Bishop, Brett Jennings
Director: Bennett Miller
Writers: Stephen Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin, Stan Chervin (based on book by Michael Lewis)
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some strong language
Running Time: 133 minutes
Script - 7
Performance - 8
Direction - 7
Cinematography - 7
Music/Sound - 8
Editing - 8
Production - 8
Total - 7.8 out of 10.0