Tuesday, October 11, 2011


He is quietly, painfully frustrated, and we can tell from the first shot. His team, the Oakland A's, has just lost to the Yankees. In an opening sequence of punctuated silence, using real footage from that game and followed up by real audio from various baseball radio pundits, we're taken to understand that his three best players have now been traded. There's little chance he'll be able to rebuild an already struggling team from that point on, much less take them to the next year's championship.

The championship is all that matters to Brad Pitt's Billy Beane, a real life draftee in his youth who, in a series of flashbacks, we discover didn't withstand the pressure during his time with the Mets. He's a present day Oakland GM now, and is increasingly obsessed with recovering those lost chances by driving his low-budget team to a championship.

If Moneyball is a baseball film in the same vein as your traditional sports team/underdog movie, it is a rare one for the sustained level of exceptional pessimism conveyed throughout. Jonah Hill's number-cruncher is recruited by Pitt. Hill introduces his mathematical analysis of player stats and picks an underdog roster to replace the traded team members. This does not go over well with the old, sun-browned, grizzly scouts in the room, who fight Pitt through the whole process ("he can't throw!" "he's too old!").

There are multiple battles between Pitt and his team coach, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, who wants more than a one year contract and will "make the decisions that will be easiest to explain in interviews next year". Hoffman has studied the body language down to the last detail of sports coaches, the way they carry themselves, right down to the way they wear their watches. Beyond that this is kind of a thankless role, but certainly a contrast with his previous role for Bennett Miller in Capote.

If you've read Michael Lewis's book or have followed baseball at all, you probably know about the ensuing 20 game streak Oakland Athletics had once the pieces were finally put into place with Hill and Pitt's numerical team structuring. What's interesting about this story is how little that ultimately mattered to Billy Beane. Many might think this newer, colder way of building teams and putting them on the path to victory was exactly how Beane changed the game, for better or worse. Beane could've cared less, and turned down serious money to prove it.