Capote director Bennett Miller helms this semi-nonfictional adaptation of Michael Lewis' 2003 book of the same name, written for the screen by Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) and Steven Zaillian (Schindler's List). Right off the bat, this doesn't sound like a very sportsy movie, which is fine with me, because Moneyball is not as much about baseball as it is about freeing oneself from traditional values in order to achieve goals more effectively. Lewis' book is supposedly the Freakonomics of baseball (and if you haven't yet read Freakonomics and its sequel, Superfreakonomics, you're wasting your life one day at a time). How often have we done things a certain way simply because that's the way they've always been done? Or because their merits seem self-evident?
Welcome to the world of Moneyball, where the highlight reel is meaningless, and bottom-line runs per game is the real glory. Traditional sports heroes are replaced by undervalued, purely utilitarian players.
Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane, general manager of the Oakland Athletics. He's going into the 2002 season, and his franchise can't compete with the George Steinbrenners of the world, who use their deep pockets to out-bid less rich teams for all of the "best" players and win championships every year. But Beane is just like Leanne Rhymes--he's all about value.
Selling extra hotdogs or getting a lot of air-time on Sports Center is nothing to Beane, next to the ultimate goal of winning a championship. In order to crunch the numbers in real-time roster negotiations, he recruits like-minded Yale wiz-kid Peter Brand, played by the wonderfully understated Jonah Hill.
Together, the two of them piss off almost everyone in baseball in order to maximize the amount of runs per dollar. They hire unhirable players like Scott Hatteberg (played by the loveable Chris Pratt, of Parks and Recreation), despite his debilitated throwing arm rendering him unable to fill his previous role as catcher. They select Hatteberg for two things: 1) For his talent for getting on base, and 2) For his willingness to play for pocket change. He can't throw anymore but he can still catch, let's just put him at first base. He's never played first base, you say? Not important. It's way easier to teach than scoring runs.
Phillip Seymore Hoffman plays Art Howe, the Athletics' manager. Howe is the guy most directly affected by Beane's insanity, because he has to manage the game using such untraditional players. Phil-Ho packs a gloriously perturbed antacid-popper into this relatively small role, which is remeniscent of his stony visaged villain in Mission Impossible III. But Howe's not the bad guy here, he's just one of many foils who attempts to manage his bewilderment in a professional manner.
Moneyball packs a sentimental punch with the side-plot of divorced Beane's relationship with his young daughter, who shows a great deal of maturity for her age. The commonly sympathetic Beane does his best to father his part-time daughter. A budding musician, she plays him an original Jack Johnson-esque song she wrote on the guitar, which is both an efficient lyrical device for developing her character, as well as utilitarian nurturing point for Beane's relationship with her. The real Billy Beane would approve.
If you're one of those baseball haters (which I can understand completely, this author has only watched two or three games in his life), don't let that stop you from checking this out. Think Charlie Wilson's War meets Thank You For Smoking, except set in the back offices of a ball-park. Moneyball is probably going to be worth a nod or two in the Oscar discussion, especially for how essentially liberal/progressivist the main theme is--while still mainting a balanced tribute to an important part of American culture. It should easily earn a best adapted screenplay nomination and--considering the ten film field for best picture--maybe even an outside shot at the championship.