Moneyball - Brad Pitt
Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) © 2011 Columbia Pictures

Brad Pitt knocks this one out of the park with a Most Valuable Player performance that deserves to be remembered at awards season. Combining the smart insider savvy of Jerry Maguire and the sentimental romanticism of The Natural, Moneyball is a must-see winner.

Pitt stars as Billy Beane, the unconventional and literally game-changing general manager of the turn-of-the-21st-century Oakland Athletics baseball team. Pitt is so charmingly likable in the role that he personifies the “men want to be him and women want to be with him” male.

Losing three of his best players to higher-paying ball clubs, and stuck with a salary budget too small to replace them with equivalent top-dollar talent, Beane is forced to improvise on the cheap. Enter Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a meek but imaginative young Yale grad Beane hires to do some computer-age statistics-based scouting. (Brand is largely based on Paul DePodesta, although changes have been made to the character and some other aspects of this “inspired by a true story” outing.)

Noting that the the A’s can’t afford another superstar first baseman like the departing Jason Giambi, Beane and Brand decide to “recreate him in the aggregate” by hiring three players who each possess a third of Giambi’s abilities. The most fun to watch is the wholesomely eager-to-please Scott Hatteberg (Chris Pratt), a former catcher who never has played first base and who says his biggest fear is “a baseball being hit in my general direction.”

Moneyball - Philip Seymour Hoffman
Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman) © 2011 Columbia Pictures

Beane’s old-school gut-instinct scouts and his resentfully insubordinate team manager Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman) don’t think much of abandoning what they regard as a 150-year-old human art for cold facts-and-figures science. When Beane resorts to trading away several of surly Howe’s favored players to force him to play Beane ball, a record-breaking streak by the A’s “misfit toys” seems to settle the debate. Or does it?

If all of this literally sounds like too much “inside baseball,” fear not. Even if you don’t know an RBI from an OBP, the very accessible screenplay by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin (based on the book by Michael Lewis) is clever, warm, funny and interesting enough to make anyone a fan. Believe it or not, one of the most entertaining scenes features Beane and Brand in an office doing a series of fast-talking telephone trades. It’s Moneyball‘s “show me the money” moment, and it sings.

Moneyball also doesn’t shortchange when it comes to the kind of milestone sports moments that can make grown men cry. A title card that says “September 4, 2002” precedes the most monumentally moving cinematic baseball game since Robert Redford cracked Wonderboy and went to bat with the Savoy Special.

Director Bennett Miller’s last film was 2005’s Oscar Best Picture contender Capote starring Hoffman, for which both also received individual nominations. (Hoffman won as Best Actor.) That movie’s subject matter couldn’t be more far removed from this one’s, but Miller does an outstanding job of delivering a big Hollywood crowd-pleaser that covers all the bases. And that’s my final ballpark metaphor.

Moneyball is the kind of thrilling home run (okay, I couldn’t resist one more) that you hope everybody managed to see, so you can talk about how satisfying it was the next day. It’s that good.

[Rating:4.5 stars]

James Dawson

Jim is Film Review Online's Los Angeles based reviewer.