Going into Moneyball, I didn’t know what to expect. The buzz surrounding the film was good but the cloud of the baseball movie genre was hanging ominously over its head. But luckily the combination of acting, writing and directorial choices helped the piece stray from the cheesy and the movie was an enjoyable way to pass the time.
Based on Michael Lewis’s nonfiction book, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, the story follows the 2002 Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane and his struggle to put together a winning team on a very tight budget by using computer-generated analysis to draft unusual players. Yes, the premise could’ve easily come from any cheesy sports flick you could catch on TV any given Saturday afternoon. But the combination of Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin’s (The Social Network) script and Bennett Miller’s (Capote) unusually artsy visuals, gave the film much-needed gravitas.
As Beane, Brad Pitt hones his more subtle acting chops and not only owns the role but serves as a strong backbone for the film. He skillfully weaves a portrait of a man who is dealing with odds as best as he can. His backstory is told through flashbacks, which are spread throughout the film. While I enjoy this technique and its use, I felt that he is the only character who we know anything about, which makes it harder to relate to any other character.
The other characters, the “background players,” left me a bit disappointed, for different reasons. Jonah Hill’s Peter Brand, Beane’s right hand man, was a truly interesting character and Hill’s performance was not only good but also the one true surprise for me in the movie. He was, however, a tad underused and could’ve provided some comedic relief in the dry parts of the movie. Yet, the director seems bent on having him play it as straight as possible. I had the opposite problem with Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s turn as A’s Manager, Art Howe. His fantastic performance, as Beane’s only true foil kept me wanting more. And yet his scenes are so few and spread apart that I felt like I was robbed of something that could’ve made the film much better.
Where does the movie fall in the grand scale of baseball movies? Well, on a scale of Field of Dreams (sorry Bull Durham fans) to the beyond terrible Mr. 3000, the movie actually fares very well. It is by no means on the top of the list but I would definitely put it in my top 5.