23 September 2011


Brad Pitt, left, and Jonah Hill are shown in a scene from "Moneyball."

Baseball long has been a popular subject in the movies, but "Moneyball" is not about the drama on the field. Its concern is the behind-the-scenes action that, in 2001-2002, revolutionized how talent is evaluated and teams are built.

And it just might be the best movie I have seen so far this year.

The subject of Bennett Miller's ("Capote") film, which is based on a book by "Blind Side" writer Michael Lewis, is Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), general manager of the Oakland Athletics. Following a 2001 playoff loss to the New York Yankees, a team with a payroll nearly three times that of the small-market A's, and the offseason defections of several star players to clubs with deeper pockets, Beane realizes a change in philosophy is in order.

He turns to Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), his young assistant GM, an economics major who believes the scouting methods used throughout baseball history are outdated and fail to recognize a player's true worth. Using a detailed form of statistical analysis known as sabermetrics, which places more emphasis on stats such as on-base percentage and slugging percentage than batting average, home runs and stolen bases, Beane assembles a ragtag group of players that baffles his scouts, his manager (Philip Seymour Hoffman)—essentially everyone inside and outside the organization.

Players include Scott Hatteberg (Chris Pratt), a catcher who, due to elbow problems, can no longer throw to second base (Beane insists on moving him to first); David Justice (Stephen Bishop), once a star, now believed to be washed up at the end of his career; Chad Bradford (Casey Bond), a relief pitcher who never has been given a shot, largely due to his unorthodox, submarine delivery; and Jeremy Giambi (Nick Porrazzo), brother of former A's star Jason Giambi and known more for partying in Las Vegas than for his athletic ability.

Beane's younger days, when he was a "can't-miss" prospect coming out of high school who flamed out within a few years, give him firsthand knowledge that subjective scouting methods often are unreliable.

Pitt anchors the movie with one of his finest leading man turns, contrasting Beane's stubborn, often bullish public face with vulnerability and self-doubt. Hill holds his own next to Pitt, showing unexpected dramatic chops.

With a script by Steven Zaillian ("Schindler's List") and Aaron Sorkin ("The Social Network"), a strong forward momentum propels the movie, even without much action. They drop in a lot of laughs along the way, but this is very much a drama.

For all the talk of statistics and baseball, "Moneyball" isn't really about either. You don't need to know the first thing about OBP or OPS to get caught up in the drama. This is a classic underdog story that just happens to have baseball as its backdrop.

Greg’s Grade: A

(Rated PG-13 for some strong language. 133 minutes.)

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