Brad Pitt Steals The Show in "Moneyball"
“Moneyball” isn’t your typical sports movie. It’s not even a typical drama. It takes a unique look at professional baseball based on real events but at the core of this film is a character-study of a man trying to reach his full potential. The film is based on Michael Lewis's book "Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game," where Oakland Athletic’s General Manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) used a revolutionary analytical approach of baseball statistics to recruit the best players his small-market team could afford.
Over the course of the 2002 Major League Baseball season, the A’s proved themselves to be a competitive team without big-name stars. They didn’t have the money to pull in all-stars like the New York Yankees so they utilized under-valued players based on their stats, not their personas. The film opens during the A’s crushing lost to the Yankees in the 2001 playoffs and lose their star players Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon to free agency during the off-season. On a trip to visit with the Cleveland Indians, Beane meets Peter Brand, a young Yale grad with a degree in economics. He introduces Beane to his radical theory of assessing players’ values based on complex equations and endless data numbers. In particular, they find that players with high on-base percentages prove to bring in runs but have been overlooked by other teams’ scouts. Beane hires Brand to be the Assistant General Manager and the two face administrative opposition about their recruitment choices since many of the players are considered past their prime.
While Beane tries to turn the team around, the focus of the film begins looking at the motivation behind the man. A once sought-after prospect out of high school, Beane gained lots of attention from major league scouts. He gave up a full scholarship to Stamford to play for the New York Mets in the early 1980s. Despite all the hype behind him, Beane never delivered on the field. Passed around from various teams, Beane never made his mark. Now a general manager, Beane strives to win the World Series (or as he puts it, “the last game of the season”). He’s a divorced single father who very much loves his young daughter Casey (Kerris Dorsey) and remains in good relations with his ex (Robin Wright Penn), who holds primary custody of their child.
By Spring Training in 2002, Beane has recruited catcher-turned-first baseman Scott Hatteberg (Chris Pratt), submarine relief pitcher Chad Bradford (Casey Bond), and once-dominant aging outfielder David Justice (Stephen Bishop). The first half of the season is a slow start as their radical approach appears to be backfiring. Athletics Manager Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman) grows increasingly annoyed with Beane’s tactics and routinely ignores his player recommendations. Over the course of the summer, the A’s performance begins improving as they gradually rise to the top of the American League West standings. This culminates in the team’s record-breaking 20 game win streak that ended on September 4, 2002. Not only did this put a spotlight on an unlikely team, they were now serious competitors in the upcoming post season.
Unlike baseball films of the past, “Moneyball” is strictly about Beane. The players themselves are barely given much screen time. However, Beane makes a point in not mingling with the players. As he puts it, it’s part of the job to not become attached and thus easier to let them go due to trades or dismissals. He doesn’t go on road games and during most home games he spends his time working out in the players’ gym, occasionally tuning in for an update on the game. It isn’t until the winning streak that he begins to become more emotionally involved. When the A’s have a chance to break an American League all-time record, Beane believes this may be his one opportunity to finally prove himself. He failed as a player and as a husband. His personal accomplishment was raising a daughter who loves him. For once in his professional career, he wants his true potential to be recognized.
The appeal of this film is its ability to draw audiences in by focusing less on baseball history and more on Pitt’s dramatization of Beane. Pitt portrays Beane as a likable figure with confidence, a sense of humor and devotion to his job, including a few episodes of throwing chairs against the wall in utter frustration. He’s determined to create a winning team from scratch but at times feels too overwhelmed with pressure from both the franchise and the media. Yet, he’s able to push that aside whenever he gets to spend time with his daughter.
Normally staring in comedic roles, Hill does a great job opposite Pitt as the young, over-achieving introvert who strongly believes in his numbers-crunching analysis. His character is a composite character made up of different men associated with Beane but primarily based on Paul DePodesta, who worked for the Dodgers, Padres, and Mets. When it comes to team Manager Art Howe, Hoffman’s talents go under-appreciated in a small role that adds little depth to the ensemble cast. However, this is truly Pitt’s film and represents his ability to capture audiences with a realistic portrayal of the human spirit.