Starring: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright
Moneyball is based on the fictional book by Michael Lewis, that was based on a true story. Or inspired by actual events. Or at the very least, bore a passing resemblance to something that really happened.
In 2002, the Oakland Athletics went on an unprecedented run of 20 consecutive victories. Which was major news because, unlike league rivals like the Yankees, the A’s were not phenomenally wealthy. By comparison they were dirt poor, unable to compete with the rich boys. They were, if you like, the baseball equivalent of Everton.
So how did they pull off this winning streak? Statistics.
In 2002, Oakland’s general manager Billy Beane (Pitt) gave the baseball world something to think about when he put into practice the theories of his young right hand man Peter Brand (Hill). Brand (apparently a combination of actual characters) was a Yale-educated economist who didn’t know much about baseball but a lot about analyzing figures. Or the science of sabermetrics, to be precise.
He convinced Beane to abandon tried and tested scouting methods, and to buy players based on performance statistics that the big teams overlooked. That way, he could put together a decent team without breaking the bank. The players weren’t big names with stunning girlfriends (a requirement for the big name scouts, apparently) but according to the numbers, they had the stuff. And so they proved.
Blessedly, Moneyball is not chiefly about the game of baseball, and there is not a lot of on-field action. For one thing, Beane can’t bring himself to watch a game live, preferring to drive around and listen on the radio, and hardly even able to bear that.
For another, this is really a film about characters and how they interact – or, as is the case with Beane and his team’s tough coach Art Howe (Hoffman), how they spend their time knocking heads.
So there’s a lot of talk, maybe a bit too much talk. Not really surprising when the script was written by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin. It was Sorkin who wrote The Social Network.
Bennett Miller is directing only his second feature, having made a fine debut with Capote, also starring Hoffman. He does another good job here, working alongside Christopher Nolan’s regular cinematographer Walter Pfister. The cast are all in good form too. Pitt commands the place with another strong performance, though he might have gone a bit easier on the nervous tics. Hill and Hoffman don’t stray far from familiar territory, and you won’t ever find me complaining about Robin Wright. She turns up briefly as Beane’s ex wife, and as his young daughter Casey, Kerris Dorsey make an excellent debut.
The film is bit too long, and it doesn’t really have the kind of dramatic closing punch that a sports movie should. But there’s plenty to admire and enjoy. And if it means anything anymore, there will likely be some big awards.