There is a scene in Moneyball, about a half hour into the movie, that I feel sums up the film both in spirit and content. Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), manager of the Oakland A's has lost a lot of his star players and is planning on rebuilding his team with what is the MLB equivalent of misfits. He goes to the house of Scott Hatteberg (Chris Pratt) and proposes that he play first base instead of catcher. Why would Beane suggest such a crazy idea? Well, according to Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), the newly minted assistant general manager, Hatteberg does the one important thing that is being undervalued by scouts- he gets on base. Right around that scene, there is flashback to when Beane signed with a scout back when he was much younger. Beane was predicted to have an incredible career and he blew it. He just couldn't measure up on the field.
On a slightly separate note, this brings to mind a thought I have about sports movies. It's incredibly obvious, but needs to be reiterated. In these movies, there is often very little action of the sport itself on screen. Obviously, if you wanted to watch a baseball game, turn on baseball. For sports movies to be successful, they tend to make what is going on outside the field/arena/etc. more important than what is inside. Whether it's Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull or Tony D'Amato in Any Given Sunday, it can be argued that they have a lot more at stake in their lives in relationship to the sport and not in the sport itself.
Moneyball, like many good sports movies, recognizes this. I personally find the script and directing to be incredibly intelligent. The film is directed by Bennett Miller (Capote), written by Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) and Steve Zaillian (Schindler's List), photographed by Wally Pfister (Inception), and edited by Christopher Tellefsen (Capote). That is a pretty damn amazing collection of talent (and obviously I'm only mentioning their notable credits). The choices they make in the narrative are very unique such as how the film starts out showing the A's lose to the New York Yankees, a team that is worth $75 million more. It just goes to show, a lot of entertainment comes down to money and that applies to everything from sports to movies to even literature. The dialogue that follows this opening is so sharp and to-the-point (the scene where Beane argues with the scouts is a movie in and of itself). To be fair, I'm just very often amazed and how writers can create narratives based on non-fiction (my favorite example being what Gary Ross did with Seabiscuit).
We then start to meet the characters. Beane is this wise-guy jock that commands attention when he enters a room. He contrasts with Brand who is much more deadpan. The casting of Jonah Hill is a very bold choice. I'm of the mind that if you can act especially with comedy, you can probably transition to more dramatic material much easier (Robin Williams and Jim Carrey anyone?). Hill is such a fixture to me in some of my favorite comedy films that if I'm going to be completely honest, I wasn't sure how much I believed him in the scenes with the mathematics. That being said, it makes sense of how he acts because Beane is obviously the more dominant personalities of the two. Brand is reacting a lot to Beane who is reacting to the information Brand is presenting him. The casting of Hill in this role is no different than seeing Philip Seymour Hoffman as the A's tired and grizzled coach, Art Howe (funny that a week ago I'm thinking similar thoughts of the casting of Albert Brooks in Drive).
Brad Pitt... I'm not sure if this is his best performance, but I thought it was one of his best. The word that came to mind for me was "profound". His character is complex. There is a scene where Beane really opens up to Brand and he mentions how he doesn't care about winning or losing, but that at this point in his life- he just wants to bring about change. Cue another flashback to the beginning of his career. Everything is just starting to come full circle for Beane and he may not be sure how to deal with it.
This is where the film walks a fine line between being over-inspirational and being inspirational if at all. There are various scenes toward the end that place everything into perspective and although some might go on too long, there was one moment that I thought brought a great level of depth if you really get into the moment. Beane is also balancing his life as a father to a young girl and she records him a track that Beane listens to in his car as he drives away (this being more towards the "fall" part of "the rise and fall of Billy Beane" storyline). The moment is up to much interpretation, but I found it to be very moving and indicative of the depth that Moneyball ends up reaching. This movie isn't about baseball. This movie isn't about math. It's really about as human of a movie I've seen in a while.