Director: Bennett Miller
Cast: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright, Chris Pratt, Stephen Bishop, Brent Jennings, Tammy Blanchard, Jack McGee
RunTime: 2 hrs 13 mins
Rating: PG13 (Brief Coarse Language)
Released By: Sony Pictures Releasing International
Official Website: http://www.sonypictures.com/
Opening Day: 16 February 2012
Synopsis: Based on a true story, "Moneyball" is a movie for anybody who has ever dreamed of taking on the system. Brad Pitt stars as Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland A's and the guy who assembles the team, who has an epiphany: all of baseball's conventional wisdom is wrong. Forced to reinvent his team on a tight budget, Beane will have to outsmart the richer clubs. The onetime jock teams with Ivy League grad Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) in an unlikely partnership, recruiting bargain players that the scouts call flawed, but all of whom have an ability to get on base, score runs, and win games. It's more than baseball, it's a revolution - one that challenges old school traditions and puts Beane in the crosshairs of those who say he's tearing out the heart and soul of the game.
What's the real problem the story wanted to tackle?
That the 1% has and owns its resources to outwit, outplay and outlast the other 99%. That those with money in team sports can assemble a galaxy of star players because they can afford a large payroll and sustain it. That those without means will be eaten alive or fade away into oblivion. And for a modest sports team trying to find its footing in an increasingly rich game afforded by the elites, this calls for some radical strategy and out of the box thinking to beat the system.
Moneyball, based on the biographical book written by Michael Lewis that is based on the 2002 baseball season of the Oakland Athletics and their general manager Billy Beane, is a delightful way of the underdog movie about sports management, and the ideas that went behind an intent to revolutionize the traditional approach to the sport, besides that of winning trophies, extended winning streaks or winning the World Series as a the ultimate prize. Directed by Bennett Miller, whose last film was Capote back in 2005, Miller shows no signs of rust as he deftly handles various sequences in the film, with the sports segment looking very much like the real thing seen over a television set, as it treks Billy Beane's journey of faith into the vast unknown.
Already at his wits end, Brad Pitt plays the reel Billy Beene who on a business trip to a rival team, spots Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) who was involved in derailing Beane's player trade talks, only for Beane to hire Brand very soon after to assist in the implementation of the sabermetric system of recruitment and drafting of players. Despite having no on the field qualifications, the Ivy League economics trained Brand relies plenty much on the goodwill extended by Beane to join him as Assistant General Manager, and together try to impress others, from owner right down to team scouts and the players themselves, to buy into their unorthodox techniques and tactics.
For non baseball fans, fret not if you're fearful that you'd be overcomed by the numerous statistics, facts and figures that may be thrown at you. The film does not drown you in any way. No more than a very basic knowledge of the baseball game is required, and even if you know zilch, you can still follow the proceedings without much trouble. The aspects of the game here are mostly on people management, so you may be able to pick up a thing or two, especially that in a professional league where players understand it's performance or the door, or the sad notion that everyone is but a good waiting to be traded when the time is right, with movement coming either upwards or downwards, or laterally sideways.
What will likely engage you are the wheelings and dealings, and in the first act the mollycoddling that Billy Beane has to go through with various parties in order to get things done his way, especially when most cannot see eye to eye with him on his grand plan to destruction, so they thought. This is especially when one has to weigh in the human experience which come with biases and preconceptions, versus what's being interpreted with mathematical formulas and statistics churning out cold, hard numbers. And sometimes the politics, cajoling and the street smarts may just prove to be that little differentiator when you're short of resource.
It's been a relatively long time since Brad Pitt had marquee a film (arguably since the Curious Case of Benjamin Button, where Inglourious Basterds and The Tree of Life being a relatively ensemble piece), and it's a big welcome to see him back on the big screen and acting like a boss. Is he a shoo-in to win the coveted Oscar award this season? He's up for a pretty good fight in the Best Actor category, turning in an award winning performance of hie own as someone who's backed into a corner, and willing to trust in whatever means possible to start churning out some victories. And Billy Beane gets portrayed as a rather superstitious man, deliberately not watching his team's games, with an extra dimension to the character touching upon his promising, but unfulfilled younger playing days where a decision made during a forked road sealed his fate, which may have played a part in his search for a new tool and technique to complement scouting.
This film also marks one of the rare, if not the only time to date where Jonah Hill played a non comedic role, and who would have thought he had it in him to do drama, being the nerd that nobody would bat an eyelid at until Billy Beane saw through his potential and ideas, and got him onboard his management team. Other notable actors include Philip Seymour Hoffman and Robin Wright, both of whom were grossly under-utilized, with Hoffman's role as the Oakland A's team coach who constantly clashes with Beane on tactics up until he got shown who's the boss, and Wright playing the ex-wife of Beane in a role that didn't bring much to the table.
With wonderful cinematography by Wally Pfister and all round solid production values that really put you into the thick of all the boardroom action, ultimately this is a story about first mover advantage, that in reality sometimes one can come up with a great idea, but given limited resources to exploit it fully, the competition just gets keener when they play catch up using the same tools of the trade, and demands for yet another innovative plan to be created to level the playing field again.
And such is life.
(A home run!)
Review by Stefan Shih