Sports fans — baseball fans, especially — will get a kick out of “Moneyball”, the behind-the-scenes look at the Oakland Athletics of the early 2000s, a team that rose to prominence despite its limitations: a small budget and lack of bonafide stars.
Brad Pitt stars as Billy Beane, the general manager of the team and its chief architect, a man who, as the movie opens, has just lost three of his most talented players and must find a way to replace them.
Enter Peter Brand — Yale economics grad, computer geek, and stats freak. Brand is convinced that a player’s success can be predicted merely by studying his stats, especially the all important OBP (on base percentage), and in no time at all Beane is crunching numbers right along with him. Together, they assemble a squad of relative nobodies and (eventually, anyway) turn them all into somebodies. A record-setting winning streak, followed by a run at the pennant, ensues.
Pitt is excellent: young and clear-eyed at the beginning, haggard by the end (the rigors of the season take their toll on him) he turns in a low-key, well-modulated performance that is never showy and always perfectly believable. Beane has his demons, certainly — he is a one-time phenom who couldn’t quite cut it, and his failures as a ballplayer haunt him still — but Pitt never veers into scenery-chewing histrionics.
As Brand, comic actor Jonah Hill — eschewing his usual clown persona for a far more serious one — plays his nebbishy character with even more restraint; his performance is (no pun intended) pitched just right.
“Moneyball” is not a great movie. Pitt and Hill are onscreen so much that the film seems a bit out of whack; we learn almost nothing, for example, about the players, Beane’s family (Brand doesn’t even seem to have one), or even Beane’s manager, well-played in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it performance by the estimable Philip Seymour Hoffman.
But the script by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin is tight, the direction by Bennett Miller keeps the action moving swiftly, and — in the end — it’s easy to see why “Moneyball” has been nominated for an Oscar.
See it whether you’re a sports geek, or not.
FILM REVIEW by Stuart R. Brynien