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MOVIE REVIEW: Moneyball

Starring Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill and Phillip Seymour Hoffman

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The magic of America’s pastime becomes almost completely internalized in Bennett Miller’s Moneyball, expressed only through short bursts of celebration and fulfillment by those molding the game’s history one inning at a time. It’s an odd duck of a movie, one that values human conversations and confrontations over the actual field of play. The trials and tribulations of Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), who tried to revolutionize the way players were scouted and signed at the big league level, are not inherently exciting in the traditional sense.

Beane’s formula is scientific in nature, inspired by the increasing monetary gap between rich and poor teams and developed by a young Ivy League whiz kid named Peter Brand (Jonah Hill). It’s referred to as “sabermetrics,” a system valuing players based on statistics such as on base and slugging percentages rather than traditional “tools” valued by scouts for over a century.By focusing almost entirely on the study of baseball’s intricacies rather than the game itself, Moneyball attempts to do the impossible: find drama and conflict in lifeless numbers. In their adaptation of Michael Lewis’s book “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game,” screenwriters Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin seem to grapple with this problem throughout.

Some moments, like the fantastic blow-up scene between Beane and his legion of seasoned scouts, addresses the consequences of change and innovation in unique ways. But most of the montage sequences, constructed to arouse excitement in the possibility of numbers as character devices, do exactly the opposite, turning the game into a completely wooden experience.

Though Moneyball is often clunky, it describes an emptiness and disappointment that are essential motifs in understanding the film’s outlook on salvation.  The opening sequence details a devastating playoff series where the Athletics blew a 2-0 lead to the New York Yankees in 2001. But we see this unfold through a playback television, and later a taped radio broadcast. Beane listens to his team’s heartbreaking loss by himself, sitting in the now empty Yankees Stadium, the radio announcer’s voice echoing through the dark void. As Beane turns the volume dial up and down, I couldn’t help but feel his heartache, the numbness most sportsmen feel when so much investment comes up short. Beane and Brand spend the rest of the film trying to erase this feeling of inconsequence; for them the only thing worse than losing is not being relevant.

Fans of highlight reels beware: Moneyball doesn’t provide much in the realm of on the field heroics. But who said sports films have to be just about the literal unveiling of physical competition? Like it’s central character, Moneyball looks beyond the game at hand and into the future, contemplating the way judgment and decision, timing and endurance affect the bigger picture of both the game itself and it’s many managers. Even though this may not always be completely enthralling cinema, Miller finds so much humanity in Pitt’s charming comic timing and Hill’s deadpan tenderness. There is magic underneath all those serious faces and stats, a post-modern love of the game that is indeed refreshing.  

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  • Rating: 3 of 5