At the Movies: Moneyball

Before you ask, I did not see “Abduction” or “The Killer Elite” because they were not advanced screened here. I did not see “Dolphin Tale” because, well, it’s a movie about a dolphin with a prosthetic tail. If it were a killer dolphin that was trying to lead his fellow dolphins in a takeover of the world, I would see that. But then they probably wouldn’t screen it. Such is life.

So let’s move on to what I did see.

I’m no fan of professional baseball and I don’t understand statistics, so I am clearly not the target audience for “Moneyball.” So I was quite surprised to find that it’s one of the best films I’ve seen this year.

Kudos to director Bennett Miller for taking two boring subjects and turning them into one riveting film. And kudos to actors Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill for bringing it to life with humor and charm.

Based on a true story, Pitt stars as Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane. Billy’s job is to bring together the players to make a successful team, a difficult task given the money he has to work with. Oakland simply can’t compete with the larger markets like New York. In fact, as the film opens Oakland’s top three players are leaving for greener pastures.

Unable to convince management to open the purse strings, Billy starts looking for alternatives. He finds one in Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a number-cruncher with a radical approach to fielding a baseball team. Using computer-generated analysis Peter determines that the men who can get on base most often are more valuable than top sluggers or pitchers (I think. I don’t quite understand it).

Billy embraces this new approach, despite the misgivings of his veteran scouts and coach Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Billy isn’t a big believer in the scouting system anyway since it failed him back when he was a young pro ballplayer.

“Moneyball” is your classic sports movie in that it’s about an underdog overcoming great odds to succeed, but most of the action doesn’t take place on the field but in meeting rooms. Despite that, it’s fascinating stuff. Director Miller manages to present the numbers and charts in compelling fashion.

It helps that he’s got a strong cast bringing it home. Pitt gives a fine performance that runs the gamut of emotion. Hill steps up to the plate in a more dramatic role than he’s known for and does good work. Hoffman, who’s almost unrecognizable in this role, delivers another solid performance.

Did it work for me?  Yes, and if a movie about baseball and numbers worked for me, it should work for just about anybody.

 

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