Saturday, November 05, 2011

Moneyball: Grade B


Moneyball (2011)

Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright. Director Bennett Miller.

Pitt plays Billy Beane, the real-life manager of the Oakland A’s baseball team in the early 2000’s. The team doesn’t have enough money to hire good players, so they rarely win. He discovers from an ex-stock broker/securities dealer (Hill), that it is possible to cheaply hire players with specific skills, rather than “all around” talent, much the way one evaluates derivative securities against specific screening criteria. Applying that formula to rebuilding the team, Beane came up with a winning A’s team, confounding all the traditionalist critics and skeptics (including field manager, Hoffman). Today, all major league teams use this method to evaluate players.

The story is told well, as a human story, not a technical one, showing how the self-doubts, risks, and courage of the characters plays out. Jonah Hill is a revelation as a serious dramatic actor. Pitt is not as good, playing his usual smart-ass Brad Pitt persona, and strangely, stuffing his mouth with junk food in almost every scene, to the point where it is disgusting, and simply not believable for a guy who still trains and looks buff.

Like junk food, this movie makes you feel good at first, but unfulfilled. There is not enough time given to the individual ballplayers and how their lives are affected by the mathematical strategy. They are hired and fired like the chattel they are, but they think of themselves as people. That’s a story in itself, but soft-pedaled here. There is surprisingly little baseball action in the movie, so it's not really a traditional baseball film. There isn’t much technical stuff either, few details on the method used to rebuild the team. It is nominally the Billy Beane story, but it is not a real biopic either. So what is left? A human drama with lots of nice pictures, nice music, good acting, dramatic scenes, but no actual nutritional value. Still, a must-see for baseball lovers.

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