Much like athletes, who run on daily workouts, strict diets, and practice, sports films operate on inspiration. And there’s something about the genre that makes grown men cry their eyes out. Perhaps it’s the machismo, making even the most collected male feel comfortable in shedding a tear or two (definitely more masculine to get emotional over a sport, rather than, broken relationships or family drama). And for those guys still looking to flex those lachrymal muscles after “Warrior,” there’s Moneyball. Based on a book by Michael Lewis and penned by Oscar-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, and his partner, Steve Zaillian (“American Gangster,” “All the King’s Men”), this underdog story, aided by Bennett Miller’s fantastic direction, takes a niche subject and makes into a relatable, accessible, and touching drama.
In high school, Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) was one of those kids that all of his peers envied: A top student, who was rewarded a full scholarship to Stanford, had supportive parents (played by James Shanklin and Diane Behrens), and a promising sportsman. Barely out of the 12th grade, MLB scouts tracked him down, optimistic about his well-rounded performance on the field, handsomeness, and invigorating youth. And, without hesitation, he signed the paperwork, backing out of a college education, eager to become the Hall of Famer that everyone believed him to be. Unfortunately, things didn’t pan out for him; his talents back at home were false indicators of his ability to perform in front of millions (he could barely hit straight). Nonetheless, years later Beane is still working in baseball — only as the Oakland A’s GM. And handicapped with the lowest salary constraint in the league, Billy is still dedicated to winning the World Series.
He’s obsessed with making a name for himself. The narrative is propelled through a series of flashbacks that chronicle Beane’s short career on the green. Because they’re few and far between — giving Pitt the screen time he deserves — these scenes are welcome invitations to Billy’s psyche, offering clues as to his motivations, insecurities, and what makes him tick. And, despite being a likeable guy, he intimidates his team by running it like a school-teacher or a father figure, occasionally throwing tantrums when the men are goofing off. Pitt plays to that, while having excellent chemistry with the phenomenal Jonah Hill, who stars as Beane’s quiet and repressed antithesis and unlikely best friend.
So when three key players on the A’s are traded off and his dream is compromised, Beane hires Peter Brand (Hill), a stocky Yale economics graduate, who looks like he’s never seen a baseball field in his life, let alone worked in the industry. But he comes complete with a radical method of building a team. Beane quickly lures him out of a small cubicle at the headquarters of the Cleveland Indians and allows Brand to explain his idea that they shouldn’t buy players, but purchase runs, comparing it to card counting at a blackjack table. He believes that, in the shadow of every Reggie Jackson, there’s an island of misfits readily available. And he uses statistical data to analyze and place values on players, determining the cheapest way of putting together a formidable troupe.
Much like social networking, baseball is a business; athletes are commodities and it’s expected that someone be screwed over. One of the film’s most memorable scenes is early on in the first act, where Beane and his assistants discuss potential replacements for their lost members. Surprisingly, onsite experience isn’t the only thing that they weigh into their decisions — a lot of time is spent deliberating on the player’s intimacies, their confidence, and appearance. And, if hired, those also affect their chances on the chopping block. In fact, it’s so common that Billy refuses to mingle or establish friendships with his employees, knowing that one botched game might result in a trade-off. However, he also believes that the moneyball system cuts through the fluff, making it impossible to discriminate.
For the most part, the script does exceptionally well in keeping audiences engaged. And Sorkin’s style of writing ensures that there’s a steady stream of unpredictable, sharp, and funny interplay. Also, for someone like me, not being well-versed in the baseball mythos, the story isn’t a derivative as it could have been. However, a lot of details are glossed over, including Beane’s divorce and relationship to his daughter, Casey (Kerris Dorsey), an aspiring musician.
Moneyball shows that there’s nothing more dangerous than coming between a man with a dollar, a dream, and his guilt. It asks, what happens when a once-rumored legend is forced to the bottom of the food-chain? What happens when life throws you a curveball?
In Miller’s case, you hit a homerun.