At first glance, ‘Moneyball’ may look like just another sports movie with star power. In reality, it’s a romantic story about a man and his passion for the game. As odd as that may sound, it works perfectly on every level. Watch out, Oscar. Here comes your first curve ball of the season.
If your job was to create and manage a winning team, but the odds were unfairly stacked against you, what would you do? You can come up with a million ideas that might work, but Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane decided to try something unconventional that ended up revolutionizing the way the game is played.
In 2001, the A’s lost the division championship to the New York Yankees by one point. The A’s were functioning on a low budget of only $38 million. The Yankees, on the other hand, were spending $120 million. That hardly sounds fair, right? How can a team with one-third the budget of another be expected to buy the same expensive, high-quality players as the team with the deepest pockets? They can’t. So Beane hired recently-graduated economist Peter Brand to apply the theory of “Moneyball” to way the A’s recruited for the 2002 season.
Moneyball works like this: Each player is given a numerical value for each of his statistics. When those numbers are plugged into an elaborate algorithm, a few more numbers are produced that show said player’s complete value – how good is he at getting on base and how many runs he gives up to opposing players. Another algorithm compares those numbers with the already existing team members, giving your team an all-around score. As long as that score is higher than that of the competing teams, you win. Theoretically. Moneyball had never been put to the test, but Billy Beane and Peter Brand gave this expensive experiment a season-long trial in 2002 – and, surprisingly, it started to work.
Even if you’re not a fan of the sports drama genre, there are a few things you need to know about ‘Moneyball’ before making up your mind to see it or not. First, Brad Pitt gives an Oscar-worthy performance as Billy Beane. Along with ‘Tree of Life’, Pitt just might receive two Best Actor nominations this year.
Second, Jonah Hill actually plays a restrained character; he’s not just playing himself. Even though I never thought I’d say it, Hill is actually a pretty decent actor when he’s given a good role in great screenplay.
Which leads us to the third and most important reason why you should see ‘Moneyball’. The film was written by Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian. Sorkin’s name should be recognizable from last year’s ‘The Social Network‘, while Zaillian wrote ‘Schindler’s List’ and a handfuls of other very strong screenplays.
In comments last week, I was coyfully asked if director Bennett Miller misses the mark and ruins a brilliant Sorkin script. To answer that question, no. Not at all. In fact, Miller seems to understand the rhythm, tone and pacing of a Sorkin script just as well as David Fincher did with ‘The Social Network’. If it wasn’t for the lack of Fincher’s trademark style, you could very well mistake ‘Moneyball’ for having been directed by Fincher.
The one thing that I’m trying to get across is that you must get out there and see ‘Moneyball’ as soon as possible. I caught a screening of it a few weeks back and have had the hardest time sticking to the review embargo. It’s one of those rare films that you can’t help but talk about after falling in love with it. There isn’t a single valid excuse that should keep you from seeing it. Go. Now.