Brad Pitt (left) and Jonah Hill don’t quite hit a home run in Moneyball.
MONEYBALL directed by Bennett Miller, written by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin based on the book by Michael Lewis, with Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Chris Pratt. A Sony Pictures release. 126 minutes. Opens Friday (September 23). See listing. Rating: NNN
Moneyball is a movie about a baseball club that reinvents itself through an ingenious application of statistics. But it's also a movie about a manager who believes in his ragtag assemblage of players; it's Major League, with math.
Screenwriters Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin (Oscar winners for Schindler's List and The Social Network respectively) have done a decent job of turning Michael Lewis's 2003 book - about Oakland As GM Billy Beane's revolutionary redesign of the 2002 team - into a conventional baseball picture. The trick is that they structure it as an underdog tale about a manager who believes in his players, even though he really believes in their stats.
The idea behind Beane's strategy, devised with a team of statisticians here represented by the composite character Peter Brand, was to stock the As with inexpensive but reliable players with a high probability of winning. Beane couldn't compete with the likes of the New York Yankees, who were offering free agents million-dollar contracts on a regular basis, so he went for unknowns who were good at getting on base - and wound up upending the star system that dominated the sport.
The story is told in entertaining if undistinguished sports-movie style by Capote director Bennett Miller, who alternates between the new Oakland players' awkward efforts to become a team and Beane's personal issues. Having been a fairly undistinguished player himself, he's now seized on this strategy as a way to give hope to a new generation of underperformers.
Brad Pitt brings his movie-star charm to Beane. It isn't a complex performance, but it's an appealing one, and Pitt has fun when he's teasing Jonah Hill's bookish, ill-at-ease Brand or grating on skeptical coach Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman, appropriately surly). Miller should have taken his cue and given the movie some of the same risky energy; as it is, it feels calculated and safe, as though someone had built a sports-movie version of Beane's stats-modelling software and let it run.
Pitt's grace under fire carries things along nicely, and there's a fine supporting performance by Parks And Recreation's Chris Pratt as uncertain first baseman Scott Hatteberg. Keep your eye on him in the corners of the frame; he's always doing something interesting, and his ability to radiate pure joy comes in handy at the climax.