Baseball, love it or hate it, is an important part of American culture. Many wonderful films have been made about the game, ranging from inspiring stories about lone athletes to screwball comedies about misfit teams of underdogs. Bennett Miller’s Moneyball is nothing like any of these movies. Moneyball is the true story of maverick general manager Billy Beane and his 2002 Oakland A’s. But what does it have in common with all of those other classic baseball films? It is great. Moneyball is one of the most interesting sports stories to be put in the big screen in ages, and great writing and strong performances make for one of the best movies of the year.
At the beginning of the 2002 season, The Oakland Athletics are already in trouble. They’ve lost three of their key players and the ballclub does not have the money to replace them with any other big names. This leaves GM Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) with a huge problem: Without key players and a competitive budget how will the A’s win games? Beane spearheads a revolutionary new system of drafting and managing a Major League Baseball team. It’s a system forgoing years of traditional scouting and coaching technique and focusing on players who thrive on statistics alone. Forging a partnership with brilliant young statistician Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) the two revitalize their team with unorthodox players whose positive qualities are overlooked by an antiquated policy. Despite confrontations with his scouts, an incredibly tense relationship with his Coach (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and a budget a third of the size of his competitors, Beane manages to draft one of the season’s best teams.
Moneyball is a near pitch perfect film. The acting is universally great and the writing is razor sharp. Audiences will be thrilled to know that the unlikely pairing of Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill is expertly realized in this film. Pitt takes on his role as Billy Beane and makes it utterly compelling, despite what some may wonder about how interesting a baseball team’s general manager can be. His navigation of the team’s problems, his distaste for Major League Baseball’s hypocrisy, and his own family life are impossible to lose interest in. Jonah Hill also embraces his best cinematic role to date. Gone is the slacker kid from Superbad. Here he comes into his own as a young man whose passion for baseball is rivaled only by his intellect. Here, Hill manages to be genuinely funny without forcing comedy that isn’t there to begin with. His laughs come from a charming naïveté that’s natural for someone so young in the world of professional sports.
The chemistry between the two actors is also noteworthy. From the first scene, Pitt and Hill have an instant rapport. Although, it is not solely the skill of the actors at work here; screenwriters Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian created a script that is pure dynamite. Sorkin’s usual flair for sharp dialogue is on full display, and seeing such good writing being put in the hands of such skilled actors is a joy to experience. Truly, the excellent writing is one of the film’s strongest points. Examples are the scenes of a frustrated Billy Beane arguing with a staff of “veteran” scouts past their prime. These are moments that are hilarious and sometimes intensely dramatic. The pacing of the film is a testament to the clutch script as well. Audiences won’t find themselves bored for a moment despite the fact that they’re sitting in a movie about number crunching in baseball.
Honestly, Moneyball may be one of the best sports movies of all time. It holds this distinction by not only embracing what a makes a great movie in general, but also seizing a very rare opportunity. This is a sports film that’s very unique, a rare glimpse into what goes on under the hood of a Major League Baseball team. Moneyball teaches audiences that it’s not always the star players or the brilliant coaches that make wins, but hardworking and passionate people who live in Baseball’s front office. Of course that would mean nothing if the core performances weren’t so compelling or the scenes so interesting, but Moneyball has that in spades.
The only reservation of recommendations comes for audience members who may not like sports movies in general. Certainly a movie about baseball management probably won’t make you fall in love with the genre. Regardless, Moneyball is still a great story about dedicated people in a cutthroat industry. Finish watching the film and you’ll probably find yourself looking at your own favorite team in a whole new light.