This Week at the Movies: Moneyball



Moneyball is a highly understated, deeply intimate baseball epic. In the movie, the protagonist Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), strives to rewrite the rules of baseball, and indeed the movie as a whole expands on this vision, rewriting the rules for sports movies everywhere. There’s no inspiring 10-minute speech giv­en by the coach to the players; everything doesn’t fall into place perfectly; there are no clear cut heroes and villains at the end and the sports team itself is not the central attraction of the movie. For someone with extreme sports movie fatigue (which I’m guessing is most of us), Moneyball is quite the antidote. Welcome to the most complex and intimate portrait of the baseball industry and the people who populate it ever shown on the big screen.

The film opens with the Oakland Athletics losing a postsea­son game to the New York Yankees, followed by their three star players going to free agency. Billy Beane, the General Manager of the Oakland Athletics, starts to get frustrated with the ex­tremely limited amount of money that he has to manage his team with. He visits the Cleveland Indians to trade players with them, and there he meets Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a young Economics major who just graduated from Yale. Brand swears by a statistical approach to picking baseball players as opposed to having subjective scouts “scouting” out talent. Beane gives Brand a job as assistant General Manager after Brand tells Beane that he would’ve drafted Beane in the ninth round with no signing bonus (Beane was a former baseball player who showed a lot of promise during the scouting season, but never managed to perform throughout his career). Beane utilizes the statistical methods to pick his team for the new season to the dismay of the scouting team for the Oakland Athletics and Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the manager of the Athlet­ics. While the Athletics start the season by losing most of their initial games, hence drawing the ire of critics from within and without, they then go on to perform tremendously well after Beane bets it all by trading away his star “traditional players” (who were not picked by the statistical method) and all of a sudden the Oakland Athletics turn around and go on to win 20 straight games in a row. All through this, we follow Beane’s history (of a potentially promising career that never quite ma­terialized) while also being given a front row seat to his in­teractions with his 12-year-old daughter who is living with her mother.

Moneyball is an intimate portrait of real people in very real situations. The movie is undoubtedly a Brad Pitt vehicle and he hits a home run (I had to). His emotional arc is complex, subtle and powerfully implemented. By the bittersweet end, you feel like you’ve been best friends with him all your life. The writing is minimalistic, as opposed to the usual rapid-fire dialogue that we’ve come to expect from Aaron Sorkin, with extended periods of silence and some awkwardness but it is all so palpably real (a trait that is very Steven Zaillian, the other writer) and fits so well together that I forgot for a little bit that I was watching just a movie. The direction is fantastic. The still shots – unlike all the shaky camera work that has become the fashion nowa­days –angles and lighting have been so masterfully implemented that the director ensures the viewer is an intimate part of Beane’s emotional rollercoaster journey.

Don’t be surprised if this movie scoops up a healthy chunk of Oscar nominations come 2012. Watch it now, I recommend it in the highest possible terms.

Contact Srikar Gullapalli at [email protected].