The story of Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane’s attempt to put together a baseball club on a budget. It’s 2002 and he has to rebuild a formerly powerful team without sufficient financial resources to do so. He employs computer-generated analysis to draft his players.
The story of MONEYBALL is known to American baseball fans, but for the rest of the world this tale might seem a little esoteric. For a movie about baseball, we get to see relatively little of the sport being played. This is because the story takes place in the back rooms of the Oakland A’s as much as on the field. It involves the team’s owners, the manager, the coach and the scouts at least as much as the players themselves.
MONEYBALL is about a revolution in strategic thinking colliding with more than a century of baseball tradition. The movie shows general manager Beane (Pitt) discovering a new statistical view of the sport through his chance meeting with a young Yale Economics graduate called Peter Brand (Hill). Brand is a proponent of a concept called Sabermetrics, which at the time the story is set was a new way of analyzing the statistical information of the game. Brand contends that the wisdom of the old guard is flawed and believes that a non-biased crunching of the numbers will reveal that there are good players in the league who are undervalued. To Beene this means he can assemble a winning team on the comparatively meagre budget provided by the A’s.
Beene is the heart of this story; a player whose career stalled in the 1980’s, he reaches his 40s without ever having succeeded in the sport he has dedicated his life to. As a general manager he is yet to see the A’s win the American League Championship Series. He has one broken marriage and a spiky relationship with his ex. Beene is a fascinating character, drawn subtly by Hollywood screenwriting top guns Steve Zaillian (Schindler’s List) and Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network).
There are no easy victories, no clear-cut answers, no training montage with a big payoff; MONEYBALL feels like traditional story telling, but isn’t quite. Zaillian and Sorkin have used many of the techniques and devices of the underdog story, but we never quite arrive at the destination we expect. Not that I was in any way disappointed, the film had drive and yet felt real; there was solid drama and comedy and simultaneously it had the ring of truth.
Director Bennett Miller whose only other drama feature is CAPOTE (2005) does a fine job here. Clearly the screenplay is a gift, however Pitt’s portrayal of Beene is one of his most grounded performances. The other stand out is Jonah Hill who can hopefully lay to rest the idea that he is a Seth Rogen imitator with this role. For those paying attention it has been evident for some time that Hill is developing as an actor, his nuanced performance of Beene’s assistant general manager Peter Brand is one of the great pleasures of the movie. An interesting sidenote is that the character of Brand is a composite of characters because Beene’s actual assistant Paul DePodesta declined to be named or have his likeness used in the movie.
MONEYBALL is a good film that tells an interesting story in an offbeat way. It runs for 133 minutes and it is currently playing in Australian cinemas. I rated it 3.5/5.