By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin September 23, 2011 at 4:30AM
Moneyball is easy to admire, a bit more difficult to love. That’s because the film, like its central character (well played by Brad Pitt), keeps its emotions in check so much of the time. It should be no shock that the film is intelligent and well-made, considering the source material (a book by financial writer Michael Lewis, who also authored The Blind Side), the screenwriters (Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin), and the director (stage veteran Bennett Miller, whose first film was Capote). What’s somewhat surprising is how engrossing a story about—
—the business side of baseball can be.
I don’t know anything about the real-life Billy Beane, and if Pitt captures or resembles him at all. He’s depicted as a player who never lived up to his potential, and subsequently as a general manager who bucked the tide of conventional wisdom in an effort to win his under-funded Oakland A’s a pennant. He’s also quixotic and unpredictable; he doesn’t watch his own team play and never goes on the road with them. He chooses not to communicate directly with his players in the midst of his great experiment, which causes a certain amount of chaos. When he does finally open up, he’s so effective that you have to wonder why he sat on the sidelines so long.
Is all of this true? That doesn’t always matter if it plays well onscreen. This does, to a point, but it also raises questions as to why a man with so much at stake would behave so curiously.
Adding to the elliptical nature of the character is the way the filmmakers present him. We learn his backstory in flashback snippets sprinkled throughout the picture, and never get a firm grasp on his unconventional behavior. He’s at his best when he’s dealing with his adolescent daughter, and at his most direct when he’s talking to his boss, the owner of the A’s.
As one of the film’s producers, Pitt may have influenced the way Beane is painted here. It would have been an easy choice to be more straightforward, but it might have been less interesting to the actor, who clearly relishes a challenge.
Jonah Hill backs him up 100% as the introverted statistician who becomes Beane’s strategic guru. Hill may not be a trained actor but his instincts are terrific and he commits completely to this interesting, offbeat character. Philip Seymour Hoffman (who starred in director Miller’s Capote) doesn’t have a lot to do or say as team manager Art Howe, but his look and attitude are so perfect that they convey more than pages of dialogue possibly could.
This isn’t a warm and fuzzy baseball movie; it has almost nothing to do with the mythic portrayal of the game we’ve seen in so many films, from Pride of the Yankees to Field of Dreams. It’s a hard-headed look at the reality behind the myths, and that’s what gives it a contemporary edge. The “hallelujah moments” are few and far between, but they mostly take place in Pitt’s office and the clubhouse, and not on the field.
Moneyball is a movie an MBA candidate should love. I wanted to love it, too, and while I come away with greater admiration than ever for Brad Pitt, I can only say I liked it very much. I can’t love a film that keeps its emotions at arm’s length.