Moneyball is one of those films that could easily be mistaken for a generic feel-good sports movie that inevitably ends with your team winning in the final seconds of the game. Yet despite Mychael Danna’s music that creates lumps in throats, and one clichéd speech by a coach, the film is extremely well-acted and engaging. And more importantly, you don’t even have to be a baseball fan or know anything about the game to enjoy it.
Based on Michael Lewis’ book ‘Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game’, the film chronicles the true story of an underdog Baseball team’s historic season through the eyes of the coach. Written by screenwriting heavyweights Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) and Steve Zaillian (Schindler’s List), and directed by Bennett Miller (Capote), Moneyball mines the emotional strings like no other sports movie. The film is set in 2001 and we’re introduced to former champ Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) who manages the Oakland A baseball team. Beane faces rough weather as his team has lost a series for the second consecutive year and is losing his star players to higher paying teams. He decides to use his monetary handicap as a chance for innovation – he hires a smart number crunching economist (Jonah Hill) and founds a team of cut price players with individual faults who, according to statistical analysis, would amount to a winning combination.
We've all seen this sort of a movie before, so we know what to expect. Director Miller throws in the oddball players, the field manager who disagrees with Beane’s tactics, and Beane’s backstory regarding his fall from grace. There is also a subplot involving Beane’s daughter and his ex-wife (Robin Wright). There are even the obligatory scenes of some nasty players who slowly learn that the coach is trying to teach them to relinquish their old qualms and prejudices, and to get to know each other and work together like a well-oiled machine. However there are splendid moments on the edges of the narrative, coupled with beautifully shot on field scenes, several excellent performances and unusually low-key brilliance from star Brad Pitt. I have no idea how great the real-life Billy Beane was, but his talent was probably nothing in comparison to Pitt’s, who brings so much passion to his role.
Even though he has a couple of funny lines, Jonah Hill surprisingly crosses over from frat boy comedy to this drama with ease – he is no longer the overweight buffoon from Superbad and delivers a superb performance as the nervy economist. Phillip Seymour Hoffman has a minuscule role as the hypocrite manager who first fights Beane but then takes all the credit when the team starts to win. The cinematography by Wally Pfister is top notch, and the effective baseball scenes are filmed such that you can only follow the games at the gut level.
The big problem with this genre of movies is that in trying to remain faithful to the source material, a filmmaker is compelled to include the same stock of clichés we've seen before in earlier films. Moneyball, however, offers us an entertaining time and a fascinating story that moves you, one that is much better than one would expect.
(First published in MiD Day)