“Moneyball” lives in the shadow of the Facebook movie. It’s an unfortunate comparison, given my absurdly high regard for “The Social Network”, but it’s one that must be made. Both Columbia Pictures-backed, modestly budgeted adult fare slid into a near-identical fall release with a specific vernacular pertaining to a cultural revolution — in “The Social Network”s case, communication, in “Moneyball”s case, baseball. I suppose the most obvious parallel is their scribe, Aaron Sorkin.
Sorkin’s dialogue often takes a sardonic, biting rhythm, as if each word stings as it rolls off the tongue. He dials that back for this Brad Pitt vehicle, taking a smooth, relaxed pace. The plot, adapted from one of Michael Lewis’s endless bestsellers, revolves around Oakland Athletics owner Billy Beane. Given a budget around a third of the major-league teams, Beane, along with a young statistician, Peter, devises a radical new method of compiling a successful team — one driven purely by statistics and calculations, not old adages or gut-instinct. The fact that the reserved, hyper-intelligent Peter is played by the guy who drew lots of penises in “Superbad” is totally irrelevant.
“Moneyball” moves at a measured pace, one that I’m not entirely sure was appropriate. Here, we have the story of two men betting their reputations and livelihoods on changing an American tradition. Director Bennett Miller certainly conveys the opposition to Beane’s theory, but never the rebellious, driven spirit that fueled him.
Beane’s struggle at home is certainly humanized well, in a moving subplot with his young daughter. But we get a little too much of the ‘Brad Pitt, meaningfully staring into distance’ stuff and not enough of the ‘Brad Pitt flying in the face of societal convention’ stuff.
This marks Miller’s sophomore effort as a director, after his 2005 work “Capote” which won Philip Seymour Hoffman an Oscar. Hoffman collaborates with Miller again here, playing the team’s coach, Art, who represents a direct contrast to Beane’s theory. A running joke is how the press glorifies Beane’s accomplishments as Art’s own, but otherwise, Hoffman is definitely a side player.
Jonah Hill is the real revelation here, and it’s not because of any grand entrance or dramatic outburst — it’s because of his silence. The normally comic actor is totally dead-pan here, something that, ironically, can work to great comedic effect during his discourses with Pitt.
Chris Nolan’s go-to cinematographer Wally Pfister shoots offices and baseball stadiums with the same grandeur and intensity that he applies in Nolan’s works. “Moneyball”s structure imitates its storyline, in that it never quite offers a clear, triumphant victory that one would expect from a film of this genre.
The fact of the matter is, “Moneyball” is not a sports movie, nor is it an economics one. It’s about how one man’s personal philosophy, if championed just enough, can change the way traditions are carried. On one hand, it’s the story of one great American tradition, baseball, but on the other hand, it’s the story of an even greater one: Revolution. Who can root against that? B