Directed by: Bennet Miller
Premise: A true story about Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), who hired a statistician (Jonah Hill) to adopt a new method for recruiting and assembling a baseball team.
What Works: Moneyball is a very good film and impressive in the way it rewrites the scope and possibilities of the sports film. Many sports pictures play like war films in that they tell stories about a group of people (usually men) on an impossible mission; the team members are a ragtag group of predetermined character types, the coach devises unorthodox methods to make them a winning team, and the story ultimately validates ideas about hard work, respect, and teamwork. Although Moneyball is about the path to victory, this story is told from the back office, showing how financial decisions were made and how those financial decisions affect the team. In that, Moneyball is innovative and even subversive. A lot of baseball films are romantic and idealistic but Moneyball is not and in a number of scenes it sets up the possibility of romanticism but then undermines it. The performances by the lead actors of Moneyball contribute a lot to the film’s theme and to its success. Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane and although Pitt’s looks fit and his character is a former athlete, the film traps him in an office, behind a desk. The other major character of the film is statistician Peter Brand played by Jonah Hill. Hill is not an athlete yet it is largely on his efforts that the success of the team rests. Both of these characters struggle against the establishment, which puts the audience on their side, and that struggle overcomes the film’s lack of any traditional sports scenarios and set pieces. But Moneyball’s underlying agenda is to question the cult of the sports hero. The story alternates between the 2002 baseball season and Beane’s backstory as a draft pick and this is done quite effectively. The backstory broadens Beane’s character but the film’s characterization of his failure to meet the expectations also aids the picture as it questions how wins are accomplished and ultimately questions the way we think about sport stories and the professional sports industry.
What Doesn’t: Because of its tone, Moneyball is largely a cold film. The characterization of the business of baseball is very crass and although the athletes are doing what they can, they are portrayed in the film as variables in an equation. Viewers who are looking for the warmer, nostalgic views of baseball in Field of Dreams or The Sandlot will not find it here.
Bottom Line: Similar to the way in which Broadcast News comically poked fun at corporate media, Moneyball dramtically explores the intersection of sports and economics. The film is smart and it tells a compelling story while also questioning the way in which we understand and appreciate athletics.
Episode: #358 (October 9, 2011)