It’s no secret that I am not a baseball fan, nor, in fact, a sports fan at all. Reasonably I was wary about the film, a stance that didn’t waver for the first half-hour or so, which is very heavy on baseball speak. The triumph of Moneyball is that after that half-hour mark it became more than a baseball movie, and managed to make me care about Beane and the Oakland A’s – even if only for two hours.
A baseball movie at its most base level, Moneyball quickly transcends the distinction thanks largely to an incredible group of performances, most notably from Pitt and Jonah Hill (in a surprisingly out of character dramatic turn). As Beane and assistant GM Peter Brand, Pitt and Hill create an incredible sense of drive throughout the film as they try to build a team from the ground up based on mathematical theory. For a baseball film with little game footage appearing until the third act, the desire for the A’s to go all the way is palpable from almost the beginning.
Beane’s unwavering dedication to his new, statistical approach to baseball is conveyed with aplomb by Pitt, in what is undoubtedly one of the best performances of the year. Pitt’s face has never been incredibly expressive, but here it so well captures the tension in Beane’s mind as he sits silently in the A’s locker room waiting for the results of the game – he doesn’t go watch the games, you see. His restraint is clearly very taxing, and his tension transfers through the screen so well that even when the film isn’t showing us the baseball – and that’s most of the film – there is no rest for the viewer.
In a surprise supporting gem, Jonah Hill turns in a memorable performance as Peter Brand, a (fictional) assistant GM for Beane hired for his unorthodox opinions on how to run a baseball team. Though Brand is less driven than Beane to see the grand experiment through, the two have a tight bond that makes them a great buddy team. Brand has doubts numerous times throughout the film, but Beane rarely has to do much convincing to pull him back around. Brand’s shining moment at the end of the film is perhaps Hill’s best acting moment in his career to date, and is filled with raw emotion that only Pitt and Hill could sell in such a way.
If there is a flaw with Moneyball, it’s the abrupt end of Beane’s flashbacks, which take place slowly at the beginning of the film incrementally. While they thematically resonate with later developments, the segments feel a bit fragmented and could better be delivered as a single bit of back story exposition in the opening scene. It’s a minor blemish on the face of an otherwise fantastic film, however.
Moneyball is the best sports movie ever made – it manages to transcend the sports-movie mentality, escape the “white people learn about racism” pitfall that so many sports dramas fall into (granted, it would be hard to fall into that given the story is set in 2002), and centers around a emotional core about a man driven to win the last game of the season that transforms an exciting baseball romp into a remarkably human story about drive and legacy – one that can’t be missed.
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