Northeast Times

‘Moneyball’ scores big as an insider baseball film.

Brad Pitt, left, and Jo­nah Hill star in Columbia Pic­tures’ drama “Money­ball.”

Au­tumn is upon us.

We all know what that means. The leaves change col­ors. The days get short­er. The nights get cool­er. And for Phil­lies fans, it means watch­ing the team head deep in­to the play­offs with hopes of bring­ing home an­oth­er cham­pi­on­ship.

The new film Money­ball cap­it­al­izes on base­ball’s prime-time sea­son, hit­ting theat­ers just as the play­offs are about to com­mence.

Nor­mally, I find sports movies rather pre­dict­able and of­ten snooze-worthy, but Money­ball is a sports movie that’s about more than just root­ing for the un­der­dog.

Based on the Mi­chael Lewis best­seller and true story of the 2002 Oak­land Ath­let­ics, Money­ball tells the story of how gen­er­al man­ager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) put to­geth­er a win­ning team on a shoes­tring budget.

Oth­er teams have lured away three of Billy’s best play­ers with big bucks when he meets Yale eco­nom­ics grad Peter Brand (Jo­nah Hill), who is work­ing as an ad­min­is­trat­ive as­sist­ant for the Clev­e­land In­di­ans. Billy is im­pressed with Peter’s shrewd in­sights on base­ball trades and lures him to the A’s, though I couldn’t un­der­stand why Clev­e­land let such a good thing go so eas­ily. 

To­geth­er, Billy and Peter use a little-known (back then) the­ory, called saber­met­rics, of pick­ing un­der­val­ued base­ball play­ers to put to­geth­er a team of has-beens, mis­fits and also-rans, at least ac­cord­ing to the rest of the league. Of course, Billy and Peter strongly be­lieve that these second-tier play­ers have the stats that prove their abil­ity to get on base (mostly via walks and singles) and, as a res­ult, in­crease the num­ber of runs scored by a team.

Dir­ect­or Ben­nett Miller (with a script from writers Steven Zail­lian and Aaron Sor­kin) keeps the fo­cus more on the front-of­fice drama than on the field. Base­ball fans prob­ably know that the A’s had a well-known win streak dur­ing the 2002 sea­son, and the film doesn’t take it lightly. In fact, it’s among the movie’s most ex­cit­ing mo­ments as Miller slowly builds an­ti­cip­a­tion for the big game and the big fin­ish. It’s easy to get caught up in the drama of the win streak, even if you’re not a de­vout base­ball fan.

There are a lot of great, mem­or­able scenes, but I was par­tic­u­larly cap­tiv­ated by those that show Billy and Peter sum­mon­ing the de­tach­ment ne­ces­sary to tell startled play­ers that they’ve been cut or traded.

The ten­sion between Billy and A’s man­ager Art Howe (Philip Sey­mour Hoff­man) over Art’s “old school” way of play­ing base­ball is an­oth­er of the film’s more in­ter­est­ing as­pects. It’s fun to watch the res­ults when Art re­fuses to use his play­ers ac­cord­ing to Billy’s sys­tem.

The movie also in­cludes some flash­backs about Billy’s life-al­ter­ing de­cision to skip col­lege and head straight to the pros, where he quickly fizzled on the field and headed to the front of­fice. Some of these scenes slowed the movie a bit for me.

The scenes with Billy’s ex-wife and daugh­ter do a good job of hu­man­iz­ing him and show­ing his life out­side of base­ball. Still, I wondered a bit about what kind of life his newly hired stat­ist­ics whiz, Peter the num­ber-crunch­er, led out­side the of­fice.

There are plenty of base­ball movies, but most aren’t based on math­em­at­ics and stat­ist­ics like Money­ball. I par­tic­u­larly en­joyed the un-Hol­ly­wood con­clu­sion to the story, and I’m glad it wasn’t changed to some fake happy end­ing.

So you’ve nev­er heard of saber­met­rics? I hadn’t either. You won’t ne­ces­sar­ily be well-versed in the stat­ist­ics of play­er se­lec­tion after watch­ing Money­ball, but that’s OK. Money­ball is not a doc­u­ment­ary. It’s a fea­ture film, de­signed to en­ter­tain more than edu­cate. And it does ex­actly that. ••

Movie Grade: B+

You can reach at shorbrook@bsmphilly.com.

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