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Movie Review: Moneyball

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Everything you love about baseball, everything you love about Brad Pitt is in Moneyball. It’s all up front, onscreen and full of wow. I loved this movie and give it that rare five out of five stars and two Oscar nods.

Director Bennett Miller was nominated for Best Achievement in Directing for: Capote (2005) and must have known he had another winner because it was saved for wide release until September 2011. Brad Pitt is Billy Beane. I think he channels Robert Redford for the part and it works. This film works on every level. One small exception: I think that the film editor got a bit happy and should have clipped away instead of tucking a few more minutes to the film. Also, I prefer music with my movies, especially dramas. But those were the only detractions I found. Otherwise, no doubt the acting super with a movie featuring Brad Pitt at bat and it’s a swing and a hit, a big hit—60 feet out the ballpark kind of hit.

I am sure the baseball geeks know the history of Billy Beane and the 2002 baseball season of the Oakland Athletics. But I didn’t, and I really enjoyed finding out. Moneyball is based on a true story of a pro batter turned general manager of the Oakland Athletics, in other words a regular guy—a loser with a plan.

Beane’s gambit: take a cool, cerebral, calculated, computerized chance on replacement players. Beane gets the idea after a conversation with a geek with glasses Peter Brand (Jonah Hill). Beane steals him from another team—a famous number cruncher who thinks he can predict winners and losers with formulas. That’s not the only reason that divorced, father of one daughter needs help, the team is in a money crunch. They wrote the definition for bottom tier in terms of season loses and team players. The A’s can’t afford a better team. At one point Beane jokes that his team is a like an organ donor to the rest of the ball clubs—a liver here, a kidney there! But all jokes aside he wants to win something.

So Beane and Brand go fishing armed with stats instead of fishing poles. They fish in shallow waters and manage to reel in players who look good on paper, bad on TV and even worse in the eyes of talent scouts. The big fish must include an undervalued contract. It’s fun to watch Brand and Beane mix and match players to the field and to their chances of beating the odds. With Brand’s help he manages to get the players he needs but Billy’s efforts are thwarted by the A’s team manager (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who does not get it; guts the odds so another losing season is in full swing. Beane needs good odds and a good team manager because the team owner does not have deep pockets—it’s $38 million versus a $138 million.

Director Miller’s Moneyball film is a meditation on the life of Beane told in flashbacks between a young, newly minted professional ball player and a middle-age GM who holds fast to the romance of baseball. But romance does not pay the salaries of the ball players. What’s more he finds that he must keep distance from them and the actual games. The screenplay and the cast touch every base for an exceptional home run.

There’s no denying Pitt this awards season. His regular-guy Billy Beane role delivers something else: a reminder that an A-list star can make a film as well as break it.

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