Director: Bennett Miller
Starring: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Release Date: November 25th
Moneyball is the latest adaptation of a Michael Lewis non-fiction novel after 2009’s The Blind Side. Lewis has found a nice niche for himself in bringing to light mundane aspects of American professional sports that end up playing an integral role in their continued evolution. With Moneyball, it’s the rise of sabermetrics and the growing importance of On Base Percentage (OBP) in baseball.
This evolution is dramatised in the stories of Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) and Peter Brand (Jonah Hill); two men leading the Oakland A’s franchise in the early 2000’s and handicapped by their limited spending power. To combat their monetary disadvantage, they devise a scheme by which they can be competitive through a stringent focus on statistics rather than on the flawed subjectivity of traditional baseball scouting.
It’s certainly an underdog sports movie, but in a most unorthodox sense – instead of succeeding against impossible odds, Brand and Bean work solely with the odds and skewer an unfair game to their advantage. The more emotional aspects of the film, such as the success of this team of outcasts and Beane’s relationship with his daughter are far less interesting than the cerebral elements focusing on this sporting science of ruthless economy.
In that sense, Moneyball would play far better to baseball fans with contextual knowledge rather than to general sports fans expecting a predictable genre narrative. Moneyball should be praised for dismissing conventional formulae, but it’s difficult to overcome the feeling that this story would work better as a documentary. Its relative dryness is all the more surprising when compared with the saccharine adaptation of The Blind Side, which largely ignored the sporting story in favour of an evangelical human interest tale. Moneyball is certainly better for taking a less manipulative tact, but one would expect more flair from a script co-written by Aaron Sorkin.
Overall, Moneyball is a well-made picture, with solid performances from its leads, although Philip Seymour Hoffman is criminally underused as the team’s old school manager. Viewers who are not fans of the sport can expect to have the finer points of the film go over their head, but this a merely an indictment of where the filmmakers’ priorities lie – this is Oscar bait squarely aimed at an American audience.
In a Nutshell: Ever find yourself watching ESPN at ridiculously late hours? Moneyball will get you up to speed on modern baseball in between moody shots of Brad Pitt.