By Carolyn Williams
“Moneyball,” a newly released sports drama film, is based on Michael Lewis’ 2003 novel of the same name. The plot tells the true story of the Oakland Athletics team’s 2001 and 2002 baseball seasons. As the general manager of a team with only a sliver of the financial backing compared to what is offered to the New York Yankees, Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) finds himself forced to reevaluate the way he plays the game.
Upset after being defeated in the 2001 World Series by the Yankees and losing many of his star players to the powerhouses in New York and Boston, Beane is discouraged to find himself once again having to rebuild his team. Working within his very limited budget, Beane finds himself at odds with his aged staff of scouts who are looking for players of similar star power to replace the ones they’ve lost.
Taking matters into his own hands, Beane approaches recent Yale graduate Peter Brand (Jonah Hill, “Get Him to the Greek,” “Superbad”), from the Cleveland Indians, impressed by his strategy of compiling players based on their specialized, statistical performance rather than their overall potential. By choosing such undervalued, unexpected players, Brand theorizes a potentially successful team within the A’s price range.
Naturally, the old-timers working under Beane are displeased. Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman, “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead”), the recalcitrant team manager who outright refuses to conform to Beane’s new standards, undermines the system until Beane forces him into compliance by trading all of the traditional players Howe prefers. This results in a 20-game winning streak, proving, beyond any shadow of a doubt, exactly how well his new system works.
Director Bennett Miller’s (“Capote”) restrained sensibility behind the camera paired with a screenplay by Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network”) and Steven Zaillian (“Gangs of New York”) renders “Moneyball” a sports film which does not necessarily conform to its circumscribed genre. Pitt’s portrayal of Beane, a jaded 40-something with a high school diploma and a failed marriage under his belt is colored also by his endearing relationship with his preteen daughter and his recollections of his own unsuccessful major league career. Regardless of his obstacles, he wants to prove that it takes talented players rather than big bucks to secure a World Series title. Hill is also surprisingly good, stepping out of his typecast of raunchy comedies, and gives a warm portrayal of the nerdy, pudgy Brand who, while probably never playing much serious baseball, has catalogued and memorized every player’s strengths, weaknesses and value to a specific team.
“Moneyball” is not meant to be a joyous film, although it has its moments of comedy. It transcends the sports movie stereotype of a last-minute victory or an 11th-hour upset. This is a story based in recent history, and we all know how it goes. Not to say that sports fans won’t enjoy it as well, but there really is something for everyone here. It’s the actors’ performances, the writing and the spirit of the film which give “Moneyball” the strength to stand on its own rather than the game itself.