Rated PG13/133 min.
A summer ago, I was watching a No Koa Ikaika Maui baseball game with my Dad and wondered, when will we get another classic baseball movie? Football is arguably the more cinematic sport, with the spectacle of players smacking into one another and triumphant end zone dances getting audiences all choked up. Still, Baseball really has something to offer a film, with those slow-motion slides across home base, the sound of the ball smacking against the bat, and the Game as Life metaphor that all essential sports movie enforce.
Oddly enough, Moneyball isn’t another factory made, by-the-book sports movie, but a stunning true story from just 10 years ago. Brad Pitt stars as Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland A’s whose unorthodox tactics to reignite his team after a losing streak were met with great skepticism from sports enthusiasts and from within the team. With the unlikely aide of a Yale graduate (played by Jonah Hill), Beane used an approach to picking the right players that ranged from scientific to practical, with underdog athletes who were inexpensive, unpopular and underutilized making the A’s line-up. What followed was an unpredictable and completely astonishing season.
Unquestionably, this is one of the great baseball movies, a film for lifelong fans of the sport and even for those who didn’t know the A’s stand for the Oakland Athletics. It shares the tough, unsentimental approach to the sport found in Eight Men Out and not the broad comedy or optimistic mysticism in either Bull Durham or Field of Dreams. Even if you know how this story turns out, the outcome never feels like a given and will surprise anyone expecting a formula finish with a tidy wrap-up. The film understands the love and obsession that the game of baseball can be for players and grabs the audience immediately by flashing back to the moment the young Beane had to choose between a Stanford education or playing ball for the NY Mets. We see the joy the game gives the guys on the field, as well as how cruel the business of player-trading and how compromised home life can be.
Pitt’s performance is one of his most endearing- the role of a man who firmly stands by what he believes and tirelessly fights upper management appears to mirror his own life (Pitt famously almost walked off the set of The Devil’s Own when he felt the original screenplay was compromised, and lost a very public battle with the film’s studio heads). As he did in last year’s Cyrus, Jonah Hill underplays beautifully and reveals untapped depths as an actor and Phillip Seymour Hoffman (reuniting with Bennett Miller, his Capote director) has an especially tricky role, that of the A’s stubbornly defiant coach; the role can be viewed as either the film’s villain or as the only sane person in the story.
Moneyball is a relaxed, gentle film, with the emphasis on character revelations as much as ball game action. At 133 minutes, it gets a little long near the end and the leisurely, unhurried pace may disappoint anyone expecting a rollicking sports comedy like Major League. This one is often hilariously funny but also quietly moving and heartfelt without resorting to cheap manipulation.
Here is an intelligent look at desperation and last chance dreams in the world of pro sports, a quality it shares with the funniest, most vital scenes in Jerry Maguire. It understands that you can’t put a price on greatness, nor should a person be measured by our expectations of them.