Baseball is known as America's pastime for a reason. Despite its long games, lack of instant excitement and outrageously lengthy season, baseball has captured our attention for nearly a century and a half, gaining the interest of generation after generation. And there's no better baseball than playoff baseball.
With the postseason quickly approaching, Moneyball is a great film for fans of our nation's oldest major sport to begin their autumn ritual. Based on Michael Lewis' best-selling book of the same name, Moneyball tells the true story of how one general manager broke the mold of traditional player scouting in order to field a team with the best players that his small-market organization could afford. The action takes place in 2002 when computers began displacing professional baseball scouts and in doing so challenged the conventional wisdom that had guided scouting and player evaluation for more than a century. As such, it's a story that's bigger than baseball. It's a tale of how an industry wrestles with the forces of change.
In an era when deep-pocketed teams (think Steinbrenner's Yankees), gobbled up any player they wished, small-market teams were forced to find the best of the rest. Oakland Athletic's GM Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) along with newly appointed Assistant GM Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) developed a system that abandoned the prevailing wisdom by focusing on the team rather than individuals and positions. The system relied on number crunching to field a team that could compete with those franchises whose revenues and payroll were nearly triple their own.
One of the best parts about sports movies is getting that behind-the-scenes look at an industry we love. We see how and why these organizations wheel and deal these multimillion dollar athletes and the drama that ensues among coaches, players and executives.
As a movie "Moneyball" plays by the numbers, but it's a compelling enough underdog story to pull it off. It's a conventional tale about an unconventional idea in one of the most unchanging games in all of sports. (Hello MLB, ever heard of video replay?)
Take into consideration - this isn't your average sports movie. This film primarily takes place in a clubhouse, not on the field. Its purpose isn't to bring some amazing victory to the big screen, but to show the effort it takes to level an inherently slanted playing field. Although fans may appreciate the film more, due to the name dropping and inside jokes, the average viewer will enjoy it just the same. Pitt's performance as a washed-up player turned GM is both charismatic and convincing. He carries this movie while being perfectly complimented by Hill. Without these two, I very well could have fallen asleep within the first 30 minutes. There's something about the way those two inhabit their characters that makes you want to continue watching.
It's by no means the best sports movie ever made and probably wouldn't make the cut for my summer movie All-Star team, but it is a good movie to usher in the fall. So if your team is facing the Yankees in the upcoming playoffs, don't be dismayed, because although they've bought a great team this year, as they do every year, sometimes money isn't everything.
Directed by Bennett Miller. Starring Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Phillip Seymour Hoffman,
Robin Wright. Rated PG-13