I grew up in a baseball house, so you’ll have to pardon the bad sports puns. My brother had a long and successful career as a catcher and summers meant seemingly countless days at the ballpark. Somewhere between reading young adult novels in the stands and my first Cubs game, I learned how to keep the box score and I loved it. You would think Moneyball, the story of the general manager of the Oakland A’s and his Yale-nerd protégé who changed the game by applying math to the draft, would be my kind of sports movie. It’s got baseball and statistics and Brad Pitt. Somehow, however, for me Moneyball was not a homerun.
In Moneyball, Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane, a former professional baseball player who is now the general manager for one of the poorest teams in Major League Baseball. When he loses the three biggest stars on his team he has the impossible task of replacing their talent with little money to offer other players of their caliber. In a meeting with other managers and scouts, Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) catches his attention. Brand, 25 years-old and fresh out of Yale with an economics degree, has developed an algorithm for determining the value of players based on their stats, not their star power or other conventional scouting evaluations. Together, Beane and Brand set out to recruit a championship team full of players off the “Island of Misfit Toys.” Their decisions, however, do not go without consequences as Beane faces blowback from his scouts and the team owner. Now his reputation, the team, and a whole new approach to the game are on the line.
What I really liked about Moneyball was the way it dealt with the way people are judged and evaluated by others and by themselves. Compared with the “intuition” of the scouts, which was actually prejudice and superficiality, there was something romantic about the way Brand’s formula chose players for how they played the game rather than how they looked playing it. When the team hits the field the emotions of the players—given a shot they thought they’d never have or never have again—makes the moment. Then, when the plan starts to work the Misfit Toys’ success is magical.
Although there is something compelling about the way the screenwriters have woven Beane’s backstory throughout the plot via flashbacks, paired with Pitt’s subtle performance, the story loses its impact. I can infer why Beane feels conflicted about baseball and his new team, but part of me wished that the emotions weren’t dealt with using such a soft touch. I had the same feeling at the end of the film too. I think in trying to create an understated, engaging film the writers have gone too far. Sometimes a little more drama would have made things more interesting.
The acting in the film is strong, but not as exciting as the ballgames. As usual, Pitt eats through most of the movie, using chewing to portray feelings. In many scenes he delivers strong performances, but for another large section of the movie it looks like he’s phoning it in. Jonah Hill is an affable dork, but that’s nothing new for him. Philip Seymour Hoffman feels wasted in this film. His role as the team manager does nothing to showcase his talent and I spent most of his scenes wondering why he took the role.
There are a lot of technically great parts to this movie. The cinematography is beautiful, playing with the landscape of California and the aesthetics of a ballpark. The story itself is compelling if not always excitingly told. The problem is that aside from a few great sports scenes, the moving was not much fun to watch. It just left me nostalgic for summer afternoons at Parkview Field. 3/5 stars.
Moneyball was written by Steven Zaillan and Aaron Sorkin based upon the book by Michael Lewis. It was directed by Bennett Miller and runs 133 minutes.
Rated PG-13 for some strong language.
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