Is there a mathematical formula that explains life, the universe, everything? Who knows … but Moneyball would have you believe there is one for playing baseball. I like this kind of “true story”, it’s human, it’s not overly dramatic in the Hollywood sense, but it has real heart and a strong story. This is a film that tells us we are always getting it wrong, and we need a bit of perspective to bring it all into focus.
In 2001 the Oakland A’s (payroll: $39 million) were defeated by the New York Yankees (payroll: $140 million) in an elimination match. It was a hard loss for the Oakland A’s General manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) who was about to have his team gutted because he could no longer afford the players. So what did he do? He turned to Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), an expert in a field known as “sabermatricians” (the search for an objective knowledge about baseball) to find a new way to buy players who could win him a championship.
Brand proposes the Oakland A’s need to worry purely about certain statistical attributes of players on the market such as on base percentage (how often a batter reaches base) in order to pick a team that mathematically will win a championship. As a result Beane is able to find a slew of players rejected by other clubs for various reasons that will get him to his magic numbers. At first it’s a disaster, but as Beane and Brand get their head around what they are doing they start to make waves across the baseball world.
Moneyball can almost feel like a documentary at times, it feels like the characters are real, as if it was all filmed live. Credit has to go to Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill as well as the rest of the support cast which includes Phillip Seymour-Hoffman, who all play their parts with a grounded sense of realism. You won’t walk away thinking “Oscar” but you’ll feel they were genuine and honest, which is important in this kind of story.
Perhaps the Director gets a little to tangled up in this honesty as the film drags on in moments of introspection and understated drama. The pace really isn’t for everyone and you can be excused for feeling the film is about half an hour longer than it should be. Regardless, the film is about seeing the world through a different lens and it’s style, while conventional, is adequate to achieve this.
I’d heard the original screenplay called for real life interviews of the people involved, but I am glad the final version didn’t go this far. There is a chance this film is too like a documentary with not enough of the drama and humour an audience would expect. It’s definitely subtle and demands an attentive audience, so I wouldn’t recommend this for a Saturday night popcorn flick.
Further reading has cast a shadow over whether reality was as this film would have us believe, but the message seemed to be the same. In a world where sports is increasingly dominated by money and the only measure of success is winning, Moneyball reminds us that winning isn’t everything, and a champion team will aways beat a team of champions. I left the cinema wanting to know more, and that is about the best praise you can give a “true story”.