We meet Billy Bean (played by Brad Pitt) who is the general manager of the Oakland Athletics. Billy is listening to his team lose to the New York Yankees via a radio and becomes devastated. As a result of this loss, three of his star players leave the team, leaving Billy and his team of scouting recruiters with very big shoes to fill with very little money to help them do it. At a recruiting meeting with the Cleavland Indians, Billy meets Peter Brand (played by Forgetting Sarah Marshall’s Jonah Hill), who denies Billy from trading seemingly ordinary players. Billy learns from Peter however that he has devised a statistical system to devise a players true value based on their on base percentage. Armed with his new assistant general Manager, Billy starts to recruit his new team from under appreciated players using this sabermetric approach, to the opposition of his traditional scouts and the team’s couch (played by Phillip Seymore Hoffman), where wackiness ensues!
Moneyball is shot like a real time documentary with real footage of baseball games. This is not a shiny sports film but rather a realistic view of a world that is run in cars, small offices, and with horrible coffee. There is no real over-the-top romances or stand-out crowd pleasing moments: this is the world of Moneyball, where statistics on simple computer screens and white-boards dominate and back-up decisions that can cost millions of dollars.
Although Brad Pitt’s star power makes it unlikely to believe him to be a blue-collar working everyman, much like Tom Cruise’s, turn in War of the Worlds, Brad is likeable and empathetic while being grounded in the reality the movie serves up. The scouts seem like real people, with real frustrations that are born of their perceived expertise in character analysis: while others may not understand their judgement calls, information such as a player’s unattractive girlfriend can lead to a direct correlation to his supposed lack of confidence in such an expert’s hands.
The pleasant surprise of the movie however is Jonah Hill. Famous for playing an overweight loser in films such as Knocked Up, Forgetting Sarah Marshall’s and Get Him to the Greek, here Jonah delivers a quiet, understated performance exuding intellectual confidence in a nervous delivery. His relationship and chemistry with Brad Pitt is a pleasure to watch, especially when they are working together with nothing but a few phones at their disposal.
Where Drive had very little actual driving, Moneyball lacks the visual treat of a baseball match, concentrating instead of the world where Brad and Jonah’s characters inhabit: offices, dark computer dens and meeting rooms. Brad’s character superstitiously avoids watching or following any of his teams games, going so far as not to even meet his players for fear of complicating their relationships: Brad trades and lets go players at a drop of a hat, as all they are a composit of skills represented by numbers. Like the documentary on the World Financial Crisis, Inside Job, Moneyball has a lot of statistics and baseball references which fly thick and fast. The specifics of such information thankfully is not relevant to the atmosphere of the film or purpose and politics of its players. I have no idea about sports of anykind, however I could follow this movie so you should too!
An interesting and groundned movie about a little-known but very important factor of all modern day sporting, I give Moneyball 3.5 bases out of 5
Luke McWilliams, December 2011