Sep 23 2011
Jonathan Kim is an independent film critic who writes and produces film reviews for Uprising and other outlets. He is a former co-producer at Brave New Films.
The film ‘Moneyball’ is partially about baseball, in particular, the true story of the 2002 Oakland Athletics who used a new system of evaluating talent to take on richer teams that could afford to simply buy up the best players. But like all great sports movies, ‘Moneyball’ is about much more than a game, and by telling this distinctly modern underdog story, ‘Moneyball’ will strike deep chords within anyone, baseball fan or not, who has felt undervalued and wanted to change a system rigged so the richest always win. And if you live in America these days, you probably know those feelings all too well.
Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane, a former player who is the general manager of the A’s and must figure out how to build a championship team after their tiny salary cap costs them their three best players. Recognizing that the traditional methods of talent scouting would never overcome a system rigged towards the richest teams, Beane decides to adopt a never-before-tried statistics-based method of evaluating players, known as Sabermetrics, which is championed by Peter Brand, a young, Yale-educated economics major played by Jonah Hill who Beane makes his second in command.
However, Sabermetrics and its alternate philosophy of measuring player performance flies in the face of 150 years of baseball orthodoxy, which relies on the questionable ability of experienced scouts to predict a player’s future based on a subjective, seemingly incongruous list of traits. Beane and Brand’s risky strategy — which uses computer analysis to measure and aggregate the skills of flawed, inexpensive players — is strongly opposed by the A’s beleaguered field manager (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) and assailed by experts, sportswriters and fans as a near blasphemous gimmick.
‘Moneyball’ is one of those perfectly executed stories that reminds you why you love movies. All of the acting is stellar, but this is literally Brad Pitt’s movie, especially since he’s one of its producers. His charisma, confidence and depth are perfect both for the role of Billy Beane, who is haunted by his own short-lived career as a player, and the script co-written by Aaron Sorkin, who is known for writing intelligent, revealing dialogue.
Jonah Hill’s reserved, often befuddled performance creates a wonderful odd-couple chemistry with Pitt, and Hoffman adds a weary gravitas to every scene he’s in. The film’s score, cinematography and production design are fantastic, beautifully capturing both the cathedral-like splendor of the ballparks and the lowly cinderblock offices and locker rooms underneath. ‘Moneyball’ is truly one of the year’s best movies, so expect nominations across all categories at Oscar time, and most likely Pitt’s first win.
The antagonist in ‘Moneyball’ isn’t a particular person or team, but the status quo, and Billy is not just a general manager looking for a championship, but a person who knows that his only chance to transform an unjust system is to stay true to his beliefs, no matter how unpopular they are. This is where ‘Moneyball’ transcends sports, since Billy’s struggle is, in many ways, the same one history’s greatest iconoclasts have always faced, whether they’re activists, artists, scholars, or freedom fighters.
And from a different perspective, it’s the struggle the vast majority of the planet faces, as we increasingly find ourselves living in ‘Moneyball’ countries in a ‘Moneyball’ world, where it seems that the economy, governments, and their justice systems have all been rigged to benefit the wealthy. While it’s daunting to imagine the obstacles we’ll face in shifting the priorities of those in power to more greatly value people, ‘Moneyball’ provides an inspiring example of how vision, knowledge, bravery, and better ideas can overthrow an entrenched regime.
‘Moneyball’ is rated PG-13.