About 99 percent of great sports films rely on the action and thrill of a ball game to hold together the plotline.
And then, there’s “Moneyball.”
Slot this in the category of films that rely more on dialogue and numbers, right next to “Jerry Maguire.”
The film is based on the 2003 book of the same name, written by Michael Lewis. It follows the true story of Billy Beane (Brad Pitt, “Inglorious Basterds”), a failed baseball player turned general manager of the Oakland Athletics.
Beane finds himself managing a team with a spectacularly low budget, and, to add insult to injury, some of the best players leave to join richer, better teams. Angry and tired of losing, Beane sets out to find new players.
On the way, he meets Peter Brand (Jonah Hill, “Superbad”), a recent Yale graduate who uses statistics and mathematics to evaluate a player’s worth and probability of success in different positions. Intrigued, Beane hires Brand and together they select a number of unlikely and unwanted ball players to help turn the team’s luck around.
There has been a lot of prolonged drama around the release of the film. Stan Chervin originally wrote the script, and Steven Soderbergh (“Erin Brockovich,” “Ocean’s Eleven”) was set to direct the film. However, Chervin was soon replaced by David Frankel, because of a scheduling conflict with “Contagion.” It was then handed over to Bennett Miller (“Capote”) and Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network”).
Miller beautifully directs “Moneyball.” The scenes move seamlessly into one another, and the many flashback sequences add to the plotline, rather than puzzling the viewer.
Heightening the sheer delight of the film are Oscar-winning screenplay writers Sorkin and Steven Zaillian (“Schindler’s List,” “Gangs of New York”). Both are in their element with this script.
It’s a change of pace for them though, as the film was halfway between drama and comedy. Viewers shouldn’t expect to hear the biting script of “The Social Network” or the dramatic script delivered in “Gangs of New York.”
However, it’s still intelligently written and gives depth to the film. Thanks to the movie’s topic, “Moneyball” isn’t your typical sports films, and Sorkin and Zaillian masterfully capture much of that.
Although the film was helmed by some of the finest people in show business, there were elements that didn’t work.
When Brad Pitt is in a film, it’s nice to capitalize on his natural charm and sense of humor. The lighthearted, easy delivery of one-liners that are present in films like “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” “Ocean’s Eleven” and “Inglorious Basterds” are all but gone.
While Pitt portrayed Beane with real emotion and honesty, some parts fell a little flat. This isn’t to say that his acting wasn’t superb, just that fans going to see “Moneyball” solely for him shouldn’t expect a classic Pitt role.
Though Pitt is the obvious draw for the film, Hill, Chris Pratt (“Parks and Recreation”) and Philip Seymour Hoffman (“Capote,” “Almost Famous”) were great supporting actors.
Hill tamed himself for this role, skillfully portraying the awestruck, nerdy Brand. His comedic styling is usually all about wildly flailing arms, bulgy eyes and rapidly spoken jokes that stumble over one another, but for “Moneyball” he was reserved, saving his comedic timing for only the best of jokes.
Pratt, who plays an aw-shucks, nervous ball player named Scott Hatterberg, was another pleasant surprise. He is practically the definition of goofball humor, but he tapers his comedic styling for this role.
As for Hoffman, it seems that he can do no wrong. He is one of the film’s anchors, as Art Howe, the tired baseball coach that is, sadly, used to losing. It seems that no matter what role you slip the Oscar-winning actor into (a controversial journalist in “Almost Famous,” a did-he-didn’t-he priest in “Doubt” or an openly gay, drama-addled writer in “Capote”), Hoffman fits it like a glove. He’s by no means a scene-stealer (that’s solely left to Pitt), but is memorable and feels right.
“Moneyball” is a classic underdog story with clever dialogue and truly heartfelt moments, and you don’t have to be a baseball buff to understand what’s going on. Its coterie of big-name actors and award-winning writers and directors delivered a film that easily hits a home run.