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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

Moneyball | Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill and Philip Seymour Hoffman | Review

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4_Chicks_Small Judy Thorburn

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The story revolves around the game of baseball, but avid sports fans should know right off the bat this isn't your typical baseball movie. The action takes place predominately behind the scenes rather than on the baseball field. It is about the “ins and outs” of the game, but not in the way you would expect.

Under the direction of Bennett Miller (Capote), Moneyball is based on the true story of how Oakland Athletic's General Manager, Billy Beane was able to acquire untapped talent for his team using unorthodox methods that were looked down upon by his peers.

In 2001, Beane (Brad Pitt) was faced with a big problem when three of the key players in his lineup were lured away with million dollar contracts. There was no way for him to compete with top teams who had a budget of $114 million when he had only a $39 million payroll to work with. According to Beane, his team was ”the runt of the litter” and the odds of getting the best replacements at an affordable price were not in his favor.

A meeting with management of the Cleveland Indians changes everything. That's where Beane comes in contact with portly geek Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) a 25 year old Yale economics graduate who displays some unique power with the big wheels in the board room. Afterwards when approached and questioned by Beane, Peter reveals that he has a method of predicting a teams success based on player statistical analysis, or if you prefer, a mathematical approach known as sabermetrics. Peter says baseball thinking is medieval and there is an imperfect understanding about where runs come from. Its not about choosing players based on their superstar looks or personalities, but instead realizing and utilizing the undervalued abilities of those men that can get on base, score runs, and win games. With little to lose and everything to gain, Beane decides to recruit Peter to be his assistant /right hand man and put his knowledge to work.

Beane may be the GM, but the unconventional strategy he employs doesn't sit well with Oakland A's coach/manager Art Howe (a gruff, Philip Seymour Hoffman) and will cause them to butt heads. Howe thinks Beane is out of his mind and could not have made a worse move in signing on what he perceives as defective, cheap players that amount to losers.

This is one of those “underdog” movies, and a losing streak is par for the course before the players are given a rude awakening thanks to a much need intervention by Beane that sets them on the right track. With only one goal of creating a winning team, Beane has no qualms about letting someone go if they want to slide by, aren't serious about the game, and don't have the right stuff.

To offer some insight as to what makes him tick, there are flashbacks from Beane's earlier years that show him as a promising young baseball player who turned down a full scholarship to Standford University when he was drafted with the N.Y. Mets. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity that left him haunted by "the one decision I ever made for money". Unfortunately, he didn't live up to expectations, lacked confidence and as a result his pro career failed, as did his marriage to Sharon (a wasted Robin Wright, in virtually a cameo appearance) with whom he remained friends and bore him a daughter, Casey (Kerris Dorsey, from TV's Brothers & Sisters). A workaholic and loner, his relationship with 12 year old Casey is the only thing he cares about other than his unflinching fixation with turning the Oakland A's into a winning team. Showing him as a loving father offers another side to this mostly cool, calculated, and emotionally distanced character.

Brad Pitt delivers a strong performance with quiet intensity as the true life Billy Beane. I don't see this role as the best performance of his career, but as a charismatic actor, he carries the film and could very well garner an Oscar nomination.

In a surprise, welcome turn, Jonah Hill offers up a restrained, understated performance as a brainy, serious minded Ivy leaguer. It is a far cry from the silly, fat, frat boy roles we usually see him portray in crude comedies.

Adapted from Michael Lewis's best selling book subtitled "The Art of Winning an Unfair Game”, screenwriters Aaron Sorkin (Social Network, which had a similar flow) and Steve Zaillian (Schindler's List) have crafted an intelligent script for all audiences, baseball fan or not. As an interesting bio pic with behind the scenes game play, Moneyball is a good film that covers the bases, yet, for this reviewer, falls just short of scoring a home run.

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