Director: Bennett Miller
Cast: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman
How do you win a game that’s all about the money, when you have none? How do you deal with a sport where you could win 20 games in a row, and still get fired for losing the last one of the season? Moneyball is not just another film about a team coming out of the woodwork to beat the champions. In fact, it’s not about winning for glory.
Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane, baseball player-turned-manager for the Oakland Athletics, who fumes as aging scouts pick players for their attitude and reject them for their hairless faces. But he can’t tell them where they’re going wrong until he meets the podgy, bumbling Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) on a player-trading trip to Cleveland. The only purchase he makes is the Yale graduate, and together, they set out to beat an unfair game that “sells tickets and hot dogs” to feed egos and business monopolies.
In a powerful scene, beset by the sense of depression that often follows an incredible achievement, Beane explains, “Any other team wins the World Series, good for them. They’re drinking champagne, they get a ring. But if we win, on our budget, with this team...we’ll have changed the game.”
When Hollywood puts real lives on celluloid, the result’s usually a heart-warming tearjerker you’ll hate yourself for loving. But the epilogue of Moneyball is more likely to bring a sad smile to your lips than a tear to your eye.
For the sake of the story, you’re hoping something will go wrong when it appears everything will go right; for the sake of the team, you’re hoping everything will go right. We’re so much in sync with the characters that we share their euphoria, and their despondence.
We’re worried the quirky Beane will jinx a game he breaks tradition to watch. Our hearts go out to his young assistant, played masterfully by Hill. Brand’s confidence in his intelligence is endearingly outweighed (forgive the pun) by the diffidence fostered by his appearance and age. His flustered theorising is complemented by his childlike delight on being proven right.
If the coach Art Howe weren’t played by a face as well known as Philip Seymour Hoffman, we’d be forgiven for thinking he’d been pulled out of an actual baseball team.
The film’s mainstream aspect is rarely glimpsed – in the symbolism of a star player’s banner coming down as Brand enters the club, in the lyrics of a song Beane’s daughter sings to him, in weaving in and out of Beane’s past. But it’s less about an individual than a team, and less about a team than a game – a game that’s tough on its players, its clubs, its fans.
It’s about the gut instinct that comes with the love of the game, versus the knowledge that comes with analysis. You could scour the storyline for the sub-plots, and few rest in Brad Pitt’s blue eyes and pouty mouth. Except for the moments when the camera focuses on the glimmer in his eyes and the tightening of his lips, it’s rather easy to forget this is Brad Pitt, and not Billy Beane himself.