Directed by Bennett Miller (Sony Pictures, 2011)
Baseball can conjure up nostalgic images of peanuts and crackerjacks, sunny days, and cornfields in Iowa. But Bennett Miller’s Moneyball, set against a backdrop of palm trees, depicts what really motivates American professional sports: money.
After a crushing loss to the New York Yankees in the 2001 American League playoffs, Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), the general manager of the Oakland Athletics, must rebuild his team after three of his star players are bought out by other teams. With a meager budget of $39 million, the A’s can’t compete with other teams who have hundreds of millions of dollars at their disposal to attract the best players.
Enter recent Yale graduate Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) who, with his degree in economics, teams up with Beane to take on the system and level the playing field between the poor and rich teams. By crunching statistics, Beane and Brand string together a team of players they can afford who should be able to produce wins. To the outside eye, however, the players Beane and Brand bring in don’t seem to be the ingredients for a winning ball club: a supposedly washed-up veteran, a pitcher with an unorthodox style, and a former catcher with nerve damage in his throwing arm.
The film then details the true story of how the 2002 A’s defied expectations and won 20 games in a row while seamlessly incorporating real footage from the actual games during this streak. Pitt and Hill shine in creating a great on-screen chemistry between a former professional athlete and a nerd who has never played baseball before. Moneyball also benefits from flashbacks to Beane’s own career in baseball, which helps viewers understand his determination not to win, but to change the way the game is understood.
Moneyball is not a typical feel-good sports movie about an underdog unexpectedly winning. It’s about shrewd business tactics and getting the most bang for your buck, an honest portrayal of the relationship between America’s two favorite past times: money and baseball.