Starring Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright and Chris Pratt. Directed by Bennett Miller. 133 minutes. PG
Baseball could not be more boring in my mind. Baseball movies, however, are a whole other ball game.
A League of Their Own. Bull Durham. Field of Dreams. Damn Yankees. The Sandlot. The Rookie. Fever Pitch. (Okay, maybe that one’s just Jimmy Fallon-fawning me.) The most long-winded, slow-paced nationally-played sport has inspired some serious cinematic catches. Some of them are straight-up great films, with great scripts to run home on. And others are simply exciting because they cut the actual game down to barely-quarter inning stretches to make it seem exciting. Moneyball is a bit of both.
The newest entry to the genre, steps right up to the plate and hits one almost right out of the park in terms of good old-fashioned entertainment. It’s a flyball of a no-frills baseball flick, not quite the highly inspirational sports drama it looks like in the commercials (the actual on-field time is minimal), not quite the total opposite.
With a script co-written by Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, The Social Network) a cast lead by a ballsy Brad Pitt and a story stripped from the life of a real game-changer, Moneyball is hard not to cheer for. The film follows Oakland A’s manager and one-time baller, Billy Beane (Pitt), as he attempts to bring his under-funded team back into the big leagues by implementing a new, stats-based way of drafting players. Under the guidance of a young, Yale economics grad (a pre-slim Jonah Hill), Beane tries to make the most of their shoe-string budget, assembling an affordable team of misfits with non-traditional looks and ways of playing, who, if statistical calculations are correct, may just have what it takes to break records.
To non-ball fans and/or mathletes, the plot may sound like an great excuse for a popcorn run, but thanks to Bennett Miller (Capote) and his fast, friendly directing style, it’s doubtful you’ll want to leave your seat. (Except maybe for a tissue. Or to move a seat away from your friends while you tear up at Beane and his daughter’s irresistible subplot.) The content is put together in an accessible way, making sure not to alienate those of us who only associate first base with first dates, catchers with ryes and pitchers with beer.
Pitt’s powerhouse performance also helps. Whether you care for his personal life or not, you can’t help but be charmed by his playful squint and face-first delivery. I don’t know that it is an award-worthy performance (he’s already got Tree of Life for that) but Mr. Angelina Jolie is most definitely one of the film’s best—in terms of acting. And yes, I’m counting Phillip Seymour Hoffman.
The real key player here is a bit player, actually. On TV’s Parks and Recreation, Chris Pratt plays an Andy, an overenthusiastic slacker doofus type, who despite all his failures, keeps smiling. Here, Pratt plays Andy’s polar opposite, an injured, discouraged wannabe winner named Scott Hatteberg. A swing and a total not-miss performance. Albeit, again, very small.
I’ll admit, Moneyball does strike out in the middle a bit, when it keeps its eyes a little too firmly planted on the baseball sequences. But as soon as we get back to the dugout and the behind-the-scenes business, it gets a second wind, gliding on sincere sap ‘roids all the way to a sweet finish. B+