Moneyball, a moneymaker: Pitt delivers in American pastime film

By Vinny Abbatecola

Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) contemplates his role as a father and coach with Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) by his side. Together they strive to lead Beane’s team to the highest reaches of victory possible.

“It’s unbelievable how much you don’t know about the game you’ve been playing all your life.”

Director Bennett Miller opens his behind-the-scenes baseball drama, Moneyball, with this quote from one of the game’s all-time greats, Mickey Mantle. After reading it, skepticism might take hold and have you asking, “How could this prodigy think that he doesn’t know a lot about baseball?”

Fifteen minutes into the film, you’ll realize there’s a whole other side to America’s greatest pastime that has remained unnoticed, even by hardcore sports fanatics. Instead of sitting in a stadium eating a Ball Park Frank, you’ll be in a movie theater getting acquainted with the curious inner workings of this ageless game.

Billy Beane (Brad Pitt, Fight Club) is the general manager of the Oakland Athletics and is at the end of his rope. His team suffers a loss in a 2001 postseason game against the New York Yankees, three of his top players have become free agents due to expired contracts and he can’t afford any good replacements. Beane soon recruits the help of a Yale graduate in economic studies named Peter Brand (Jonah Hill, Superbad), who has an innovative process on how to find the values in less expensive players that scouts would fail to notice. While attempting to get his team off the ground, Billy also tries to provide for his daughter Casey (Kerris Dorsey, Walk the Line) while on a limited budget. As other people working in baseball continue to express their doubts about the future of the Oakland Athletics, Billy will show them how this new system could very well be a game-changer.

Brad Pitt’s portrayal of Billy Beane is the high-flying grand slam that helps this film to score its home run. Just like a World Series game, it’s exhilarating to watch. The way his character does a balancing act between being a committed coach and an affectionate father speaks to Billy’s priorities. One of the finest qualities of his character is that he never mopes around and feels bad about himself for being divorced, and doesn’t let it cloud his mind. Billy accepts it and concentrates on the tasks at hand. His life on the field and at home are both in his view, and this translates into Pitt mastering both sides of Billy, making this one of the optimum performances of his still-flourishing career.

Jonah Hill acts as Pitt’s character’s reassurance, promising Billy the benefits of using his way of picking specific players and finding their values that have been overlooked. His role as Peter is Billy’s beginner’s guide to the system that will carry his team further than it would have ever anticipated. Hill still has that timidity in his character that we’ve seen in some of his other roles, but keeps his Jonah Hill-isms to a minimum and still manages to make us laugh on occasions when it’s called for.

Of course, the story focuses on the actual baseball games, but that’s not entirely what the movie is about. It’s about what happens backstage that’s the point of intrigue in the film. How we see the science behind the deciphering of baseball statistics is what makes this film as much a learning experience as it does a viewing one. Archival footage of past ball games is shown at certain points in Moneyball and is used to rich effect. It brings us to a realization that in baseball there is what we see on the field as spectators, but there is also what we don’t see that goes on outside of the game.

Steven Zaillian’s and Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay, based on the 2003 book, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis, completely throws you into the sport. I don’t watch baseball, but even if you’re not a fan of the sport, I can assure you that you won’t feel that same lack of interest when you experience this film. In the end, you come out of the theater with a better understanding of the game than you had walking in. It’s a sports movie that’s unlike any other but is still founded on the same principles. It has the common plotline of the coach striving for the best in his team, but it has the revealing aspect of the statistical method that was used to better the team.

Baseball may not be everyone’s first choice in the vast world of sports, but this film includes so much more than baseball can offer on its own. Do as the song says, and take yourself out to this ball game.

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