I am quite simply not a sports person. I don’t watch sports. I don’t play sports games unless the residents of the Mushroom Kingdom are the players. So the switch to stat-based player drafting that’s depicted in Moneyball is something I simply did not know about or understand the pure significance of. In fact, going in, I didn’t even understand how this would fill a 2 hour movie. Leave it to screenwriter Aaron Sorkin to engage me from the first line of dialogue to the epilogue.
Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) is a former baseball player who’s now manager of the Oakland A’s, a team that’s suffering in skill and money. In the middle of trading players, he meets statistician Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), whose work leads to the A’s hiring players on pure stats…and what happens from there is a complete change of the great American pastime.
Normally when I go to see a movie, it’s the stars or the director who get me into the theater. Here, it’s Aaron Sorkin (fresh off his Adapted Screenplay win from The Social Network) as the writer who made me really want to see this movie. I will note in advance that Steven Zaillian is also one of the writers, who did scripts for Schindler’s List, Gangs of New York, and American Gangster. What I’m saying is that he’s no slouch either, but it’s impossible to tell who did what and Sorkin is the name I know better. It really doesn’t matter either way, because the dialogue in this movie is sharp. It does not slow down for a second. There are terms and names flying past that I simply do not and probably never will understand. I don’t care, and neither do they. There’s no talking down to the audience, no slow exposition. They know you get it. When they’re first showing the stats sheets that Billy has, there’s just numbers going past that I don’t understand, but I get it: it’s turning into a numbers game. The scene that sticks with me is when Billy and Peter and in Billy’s office and are trying to get one player from a team. The intense trading that goes on as Billy calls manager after manager without ever leaving the scene is just purely engaging, even as they call out names of players I don’t know. I’ll freely admit that, before seeing it, I did not see Jonah Hill in a dramatic role. His character still has a comedic part to it, but it’s really a character who’s in love with the game of baseball. I don’t think it will take his career in a new direction, but I think it shows he can be more than “that kid from Superbad”.
In a way, the whole movie is above the game of baseball. You’re focusing on managers and statisticians, not players or the game itself. This isn’t to say there aren’t some wonderful scenes involving the game, including one that had me on the edge of my seat. But this is not a movie about baseball. This is a movie about a man changing things. Billy Beane is a character you get to know and love. He flies into fits of rage, he manipulates characters into doing what he wants, while at the same time we see his past and his daughter from a failed marriage. This is Brad Pitt as his finest, in a role full of depth that he just handles effortlessly. Jonah Hill is still Jonah Hill at the end of this, but Brad Pitt is Billy Beane. He does it that well.
I know some people will be turned off by the subject matter of baseball. But when you get past that, you get a fully engaging movie that has wit, drama, and history. One of this year’s must-sees.