I waited a few days to write this review, since I’m still basking in the thrill of what is possibly one of the best baseball movies of all time. Moneyball, which opened on Friday, is about baseball, financing a team, and assembling the best team possible given the circumstances. If you have read the book, you know how it works. If you follow sports, you know what happened and how Billy Beane transformed baseball. Skeptic? Look at the Red Sox who use the moneyball system.
But like all of the best baseball movies, its about much more than that. There is a saying that if you want to understand America, you better understand baseball. That is on full display here in Moneyball. More than baseball itself, its a story about finding strength in what you have; in giving people a second chance; and in achieving something unexpected in return. There is a lot of heart in this movie, and it wears its heart on its sleeve (most effectively in the sub-story involving Scott Hatteberg, which will break your heart).
Performances here are superb. Brad Pitt leads the helm as Billy Beane; Jonah Hill as his recent college grad assistant (based on real-life Paul DePodesta but fictionalized here, DePodesta actually started working for the A’s in 1999) in a subtle, underplayed manner; Philip Seymour Hoffman as A’s coach Howe; and some great supporting work by Chris Pratt as Hatterberg (who looks eerily like the real thing). Indeed, most of the A’s players look like the ragtag team that Beane assembled, from Justice (yeah, that Justice) to Giambi (no, not that Giambi, the other one).
What happens in the film is a snapshot of a season in which the Oakland A’s, with a measly yearly budget compared to the big boys (i.e. Yankees), assemble the most undervalued but highest on-base-percentage players and lead the team to a 20-game winning streak and the playoffs. Baseball fans can look at the historical record and see that the A’s didn’t win the World Series. There is no big home run where outfield lights shatter and sparkle to the ground (although one comes close, at least emotionally in this film). But what Beane and his team did was to change the way baseball players are managed forever.
In the very fine understated final reel, the full emotional impact of what occurred hits you pretty hard. And it stays with you for days. You get home, and you turn on the end of the game on tv, and you see the players in a completely different light. And that is what good filmmaking is all about. And that is what Oscar gold is about. Look for high accolades come next year’s award season.
Highly recommended, even for those who aren’t big baseball fans. It’s a movie movie. And it’s a great tale told well.
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