Moneyball is a baseball film that’s not actually about baseball. This was a good thing for me because, like the best sports movies, it’s easy to understand without needing a comprehensive knowledge of the game, its rules and its players. Based on Michael Lewis’ book ‘Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game’, Bennett Miller (Capote) directs an intelligent screenplay adapted by Academy Award winners Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian that tells the true story of Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), the general manager of down and out team the Oakland A’s.
It’s 2002 and the A’s find themselves at an impasse when three of their star players are whisked away to other teams. Billy is desperate and down on his luck; he just can’t match the kind of lucrative contracts that his competitors are able to dish out on a regular basis. How fortunate then that he should meet socially awkward but clever statistician Peter Brand (Jonah Hill). The two strike up an unlikely partnership, as Brand comes up with a way for Billy to turn the A’s into a winning team despite their cash-strapped budget. As Billy puts it: ‘There are rich teams and there are poor teams. Then there’s 50 feet of crap. And then there’s us’. Wonderful.
It’s an underdog story but with a slightly different angle. Brand uses maths to analyse a player’s worth based on statistics rather than through traditional scouting techniques. His findings are surprising and lead Billy to build a team out of an odd assortment of overlooked players, much to the chagrin of his experienced scouts. The film is not really about the players though, so we never really learn who they are and what the team dynamics are. Instead, the screenplay deals heavily in baseball’s backdoor politics, in criticism and vindication, and comes across a bit like a documentary of the actual events as they happened.
Hill proves he can play with the big boys and delivers a reserved performance that stands alongside Pitt’s layered portrayal of Billy. It turns out that Billy is a character of surprising complexity, having been a scouted player himself that failed to live up to his potential. That said, some of his interactions with his family feel a bit token, as if solely there to say, “Hey! I have a family! Hey! I’m a father! Hey! I’m divorced!” Much of this isn’t necessary and there really isn’t any catharsis or otherwise regarding his personal life. The movie is already too long and certain scenes and subplots like these could have been completely excised in order to improve the overall experience. It’s just slow, particularly towards the beginning and especially after the final baseball game – there was a point at which I wanted it to hurry up and end.
And that’s the problem. Despite the strong acting – particularly Pitt’s – Moneyball is too long with a few too many dull patches. I enjoyed the performances, the witty banter and verbal jousting, as well as the refreshing angle on the underdog story but, sadly, I was relieved when it was all over.