Moneyball | Film review
Bennett Miller’s solid baseball drama sacrifices the stat-nerd appeal of its source material.
The problem for anyone trying to make a movie from Michael Lewis’s Moneyball is that this isn’t a baseball story hinging on a home run or a Big Win. It deals with a triumph of math and statistics—subjects that don’t easily translate to cinema. Steven Soderbergh planned his own wonky adaptation, which would have been something; his trademark combination of cheekiness and OCD makes a close correlative to Lewis’s writing style. But the studio wasn’t happy with his approach, and now we have this commercialized version, directed by Capote helmer Bennett Miller and written by pros Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zaillian. If the results aren’t as groundbreaking as a Soderbergh version might have been, neither are they as mawkish or bowdlerized as 2009’s awful reworking of Lewis’s The Blind Side.
Working with a fictionalized Yale econ major (based on Mets numbers man Paul DePodesta) played by Jonah Hill, Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) makes the calculation that individual players don’t matter so much as aggregate runs. By simply concentrating on who gets on base, he can put together a team that wins games even if it lacks the money for high-profile players. The best scenes in the movie draw on Pitt’s charisma, as Beane argues against the board members and the manager (a square-jawed Philip Seymour Hoffman) for this approach. More sentimental than is strictly necessary, the screenplay sees Beane’s ultimate success as cosmic payback for a teenage mistake; the movie also cops out by giving us one big run, even if it isn’t at the very end. But while Moneyball hasn’t been translated into a feast for nerds, it’s a moving, well-paced character study, with a detailed sense of the backroom politics of a game that, it turns out, really does favor brains over brawn.