Of the two Michael Lewis books made into movies in recent history, I’d have to say that Moneyball has a leg up over The Blind Side. Why you ask? Well first of all, no Sandra Bullock. Big check in the plus column. Second of all, the story is neither exploitative or schmaltzy. And third of all, and I can’t stress the point enough, no Sandra Bullock. Everyone wins.
Moneyball is the story of a major league baseball team and the general manager who is given the task of putting together a team with limited funds. Billy Beane, played by the ever so talented Brad Pitt, enlists the help of Jonah Hill’s Peter Brand to help put together a team that stays within their means.
For a film that went through three directors and two rewrites, it really knows what it wants to be despite its initial identity crises. The movie is about the business of baseball, not so much the sport itself and it does not apologize for being just that. Yes, there are training sequences and footage of games spliced in, but the film is about Billy Beane and the impossible task he was charged with. While many will shy away knowing there is more business and less baseball, the real joy of the film is watching the protagonists attempt to overcome the odds. An underdog story in the truest sense of the term.
Despite having what many would deem a banal premise, the story is rather engaging. Anyone could make another Major League where we see the misfits make good, but to make a movie where we see the actual rationale for why the misfits make good takes a skilled set of storytellers. Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday attempts to do the same thing with football, but chooses to focus on the melodrama and sensationalism surrounding the sport. Moneyball chooses to focus on the heart and soul of the sport and the people who champion that.
Pitt swaggers onto the scene as Beane and quickly shows that he is in control of the film and its direction from that point on. Centered around his protagonist and his endeavors, the audience immediately wants to root for him, despite his numerous character flaws. The quick wit and repartee that Pitt establishes with each and every actor in the film shows why he is one of the most sought after actors working today. Backed up by a somber but real Jonah Hill and a sorely underused Philip Seymour Hoffman, Pitt should receive some love come awards season.
Moneyball is a humorous and, at times, sobering look at the business of baseball. Anyone looking for the next Bull Durham or Major League may want to reconsider. While Moneyball takes a number of liberties with the actual story and fictionalizes the factual, it is a real story about real people. And perhaps the story is too familiar to some, but in this case it’s more about seeing the story unfold and less about the ultimate outcome. Well worth the price of admission, and has to be cheaper than paying to watch the Cubs lose in person.