Pitt and Hill Pitch a Fit

Main Cast: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman

Director: Bennett Miller

What is it with me and baseball movies?  Field of Dreams is one of my favorites, I loved The Natural and yet I couldn’t possibly care less about professional baseball.  I found myself caught up, yet again, in baseball cinema with Moneyball.

First, I have to admit that I wasn’t even going to see Moneyball.  Because I don’t care about baseball.  And it didn’t look fairy tale-esque enough for me.  But then it landed an Oscar nomination and lo and behold, appeared in my DVR with my very next Netflix delivery.  Voila!  And for the most part, I wasn’t disappointed.

Brad Pitt stars as Billy Beane, washed out player turned manager of the Oakland Althetics baseball team.  The year is 2002 and the A’s are a low budget team that has its talent scalped by richer clubs each year.  As they scramble to recover from losing three key players Beane meets a young man with a new way of building a roster, a new system to analyze previously overlooked (read: inexpensive to sign) players with the potential to help the team win games.   Moneyball documents the 2002 season as Beane and wunderkind Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) change the game of baseball.

That sounds so boring.  It really, truly does.  Even now I can’t quite believe how enjoyable the movie experience is for non-fans like me.  But the inspirational sports drama isn’t popular without reason.  It’s great to see perpetual underdogs try something brand new and make waves – and maybe do some winning with their unorthodox approach.

Brad Pitt carries the film as Billy Beane.  Sprinkled throughout the film are bits and pieces of his history as a player with great promise who never quite lived up to his potential.  You can feel his past affecting his approach to managing his team and his attraction to this new system that doesn’t rely on making big promises to young kids that often don’t play out.  He was in the right place at the right time and in the right frame of mind to be receptive to something new and Peter Brand stepped in a provided him with both inspiration and quiet, steadfast support.  Jonah Hill breaks out of his usual comedy roles and plays it straight – and succeeds.  He’s nominated for Best Supporting Actor for this role and it’s easy to see why – this is a complete departure from the Jonah Hill we’ve seen before.  I don’t know if the performance is really award-winning caliber, but Hill proves that he can bring more to the screen than gross fat guy jokes.

Where the movie sags is in the pacing.  It’s just a little slow.  We get our inspirational montages of games, tussles with owners and other managers over personnel, style and this newfangled system.  We see the typical initial failures leading to something more.  We even dig into the character of Beane more than a little and get an idea of what makes him tick and where his heart lies.  But we get it all a little too slowly and a little too mechanically.  As a film based on actual events, director Bennett Miller wasn’t going to take a lot of artistic license, which unfortunately leaves the proceedings just a touch too dry.  Still enjoyable on a lot of levels, but a little dry in the end.

Moneyball is a good movie.  The story is interesting, the performances of Pitt and Hill are rock solid (also look for Philip Seymour Hoffman as the team manager and cute-as-a-button Kerris Dorsey as Beane’s daughter) and the filmmakers use of actual footage from 2002 is a nice touch that gives perspective to the public scrutiny of professional athletics by talking heads who really spend a lot of time talking out their asses.  But in the end it’s good movie, not a great one.   3 ½ stars and a recommendation – but I don’t think Moneyball is Oscar caliber.

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