I tend to enjoy baseball movies, especially ones that focus on the traditions and mystique of the game like Bull Durham and Field of Dreams. However, I find the actual sport of baseball to be incredibly boring. After all, it's a sport where virtually nothing is happening 99% of the time (even as the games get longer), and with so many games per season, it's hard to understand how anyone could care about any single one, especially early in the season. Sure, it can be fun attending a game and consuming overpriced hot dogs and expensive, watered-down beer with friends -- it's sort of like going to a picnic run by jerks, but with a decent pick-up game happening in the distance. I'll always remember a soccer coach of mine saying, "Baseball isn't a sport. That's why they call it a 'pastime'."
Moneyball (co-produced and starring Brad Pitt) is about baseball, as it tells the story of Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane (Pitt) as he and his inexperienced assistant general manager, Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) attempt to use a new, purely statistics-based approach to evaluating talent and playing the game (known as sabermetrics) in order to compete with richer teams like the New York Yankees. But Moneyball is about baseball about as much as The Social Network is about building a website -- not very much. And as someone who doesn't like baseball, I absolutely loved it.
Listen to my review of Moneyball on Sonali Kolhatkar's Uprising Show by clicking on the image below.
The film Moneyball is partially about baseball, in particular, the true story of the 2002 Oakland Athletics who used a new system of evaluating talent to take on richer teams that could afford to simply buy up the best players. But like all great sports movies, Moneyball is about much more than a game, and by telling this distinctly modern underdog story, Moneyball will strike deep chords within anyone, baseball fan or not, who has felt undervalued and wanted to change a system rigged so the richest always win. And if you live in America these days, you probably know those feelings all too well.
Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane, a former player who is the general manager of the A's and must figure out how to build a championship team after their tiny salary cap costs them their three best players. Recognizing that the traditional methods of talent scouting would never overcome a system rigged towards the richest teams, Beane decides to adopt a never-before-tried statistics-based method of evaluating players, known as sabermetrics, which is championed by Peter Brand, a young, Yale-educated economics major played by Jonah Hill who Beane makes his second in command.
However, sabermetrics and its alternate philosophy of measuring player performance flies in the face of 150 years of baseball orthodoxy, which relies on the questionable ability of experienced scouts to predict a player's future based on a subjective, seemingly incongruous list of traits. Beane and Brand's risky strategy -- which uses computer analysis to measure and aggregate the skills of flawed, inexpensive players -- is strongly opposed by the A's beleaguered field manager (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) and assailed by experts, sportswriters and fans as a near blasphemous gimmick.
Moneyball is one of those perfectly executed stories that reminds you why you love movies. All of the acting is stellar, but this is literally Brad Pitt's movie, especially since he's one of its producers. His charisma, confidence and depth are perfect both for the role of Billy Beane, who is haunted by his own short-lived career as a player, and the script co-written by Aaron Sorkin, who is known for writing intelligent, revealing dialogue.
Jonah Hill's reserved, often befuddled performance creates a wonderful odd-couple chemistry with Pitt, and Hoffman adds a weary gravitas to every scene he's in. The film's score, cinematography and production design are fantastic, beautifully capturing both the cathedral-like splendor of the ballparks and the lowly cinderblock offices and locker rooms underneath. Moneyball is truly one of the year's best movies, so expect nominations across all categories at Oscar time, and most likely Pitt's first win.
The antagonist in Moneyball isn't a particular person or team, but the status quo, and Billy is not just a general manager looking for a championship, but a person who knows that his only chance to transform an unjust system is to stay true to his beliefs, no matter how unpopular they are. This is where Moneyball transcends sports, since Billy's struggle is, in many ways, the same one history's greatest iconoclasts have always faced, whether they're activists, artists, scholars, or freedom fighters.
And from a different perspective, it's the struggle the vast majority of the planet faces, as we increasingly find ourselves living in Moneyball countries in a Moneyball world, where it seems that the economy, governments, and their justice systems have all been rigged to benefit the wealthy. While it's daunting to imagine the obstacles we'll face in shifting the priorities of those in power to more greatly value people, Moneyball provides an inspiring example of how vision, knowledge, bravery, and better ideas can overthrow an entrenched regime.