"Moneyball" is a pretty good movie about baseball, but a better movie about the baseball business. The main characters are not players or coaches — and there's barely any mention of fans.
It is a story of businessmen, men who are typically depicted as greedy tycoons in other baseball movies. Everybody knows that wins and losses are the bottom line in baseball, but these are the men who have to make the hard decisions based on that bottom line.
Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane, general manager for the 2002 Oakland Athletics. He had flopped as a player years earlier, but stayed in the baseball business for love of the game.
He has since learned that the game and the business are very different. From a playing standpoint, his 2001 team would be considered relatively successful because they were one of only four teams to make it to the division championship.
From a business standpoint, it was considered unsuccessful because the team lost and three of their top players got drafted to other teams. Billy not only has to rebuild the team, he has to build one that can win the World Series. And he has to do it with the A's money.
On an unsuccessful trading mission, Billy notices a young pencil pusher named Peter Brand (Jonah Hill). Peter has absolutely no background in baseball and it's surprising that he even knows any terminology. Yet, he seems to know which players should and shouldn't be traded based solely on statistics. It's a new way of looking at the bottom line, assessing value with a computer with no intangibles. In other words, no heart.
Billy hires Peter for himself and they assemble a new roster based on Peter's theories. They make some controversial decisions that make them unpopular with everyone not in their positions. They save so much money bringing in players that are only successful on paper that the theory becomes known as Moneyball.
The rest of the film consists mostly of smart dialogue exchanges involving Peter and especially Billy. Other valuable players include Philip Seymour Hoffman as the team's coach and Chris Pratt as a stoked callup. When we do get baseball scenes, they are great ones. The team goes on an unprecedented 20-game winning streak and an unexpected home run late in the film caused me to laugh harder than any other film this year.
I mentioned the streak, which isn't a spoiler since it is a matter of historical record. Also a matter of historical record is the team's poor performance in the postseason and Billy Beane's unwise rejection of a $12.5 million contract with a team that went on to win the World Series. The massive failure really takes the inspiration out of the story that led up to it. The film has the most depressing ending for a sports movie since the Jamaican bobsled team choked big time in 1994's "Cool Runnings."
Then again, a lot about "Moneyball" is the opposite of what you'd expect from an underdog sports movie. For starters, you'd think the human beings would be trying to prove the soulless computer wrong. But the point isn't really that they used a computer, it's that they went outside their comfort zone and used an idea that only they believed in. The bottom line is that "Moneyball" is one of the most enjoyable films of 2011.
Three 1/2 stars out of Five
"Moneyball" is rated PG-13 for some strong language. Its running time is 133 minutes.
Contact Bob Garver at firstname.lastname@example.org.