Baseball is a phenomenon that has generated more cultural metaphors than almost any other existing source. It has been such a part of America’s past that it has ingrained itself in the very way we speak. “Swing for the fences.” “Two strikes against you.” “He’s calling his shot.” “Out of left field.” The list goes on forever.
When it comes to Brad Pitt’s latest effort, Moneyball, “ground rule double” is the term most appropriate. For the non-sports educated reader (this is a nerd site, after all) a “ground rule double” is when a batter hits a ball that stays in-bounds into the outfield where it takes a good bounce and goes over the wall into home run territory, the result being that the batter gets to go to second base unrestricted, but can not advance any further on that particular play.
With that in mind, Moneyball is a good movie that hits the ball well and would love to round second base for third, but the rules of the game keep it from doing so. The story revolves around how the 2002 Oakland A’s overhauled the way that MLB teams put together their rosters by applying mathematics and business logic towards hiring players, rather than spending huge chunks of cash (because they couldn’t afford to) on superstar players. It’s really a fascinating, unconventional sports story grounded by the reliably good Brad Pitt (doing his best Robert Redford) as A’s general manager Billy Beane, and an unexpectedly endearing and understated performance by Jonah Hill as the geeky statistics whiz that Beane recruits to help change his organization.
The single greatest detriment to the overall film is the reality that it tries to adhere to. At certain times, it badly wants to invoke the more classic inspirational sports movies of old, instead of sticking to the oddball character story that gives the movie its personality. But because of the real life outcome of the people involved, there was no storybook ending for Billy Beane and his team. The A’s record breaking 20-game win streak accomplished that year served as the emotional triumph of the movie, but was only introduced by a montage in the latter half of the film and was resolved shortly thereafter . Beane never got that elusive “last game” World Series win the character talked about and strived for throughout the movie. The real life story lacked that inspirational emotional knockout punch – sorry, mixing sports metaphors – but the movie might have benefited from trying not to be the textbook feel-good sports movie. Instead it opts to pepper in a watered down version of something akin to Friday Night Lights into the overall (more interesting) plot.
All that aside, Moneyball does have a good amount of heart, and there are some genuinely funny moments that really elevate the movie’s entertainment factor in what could have been a dull sports story. Don’t let the testosterone-fueled trailers fool you – this one features little actual sports, focusing more on math equations and dry erase boards. Philip Seymour Hoffman & Robin Wright Penn contribute some nice, subtle performances in their nearly-thankless roles, but the chemistry between Pitt and Hill is the core of this movie, and manages to keep it afloat for the entirety of the 133 minute run-time.
While this film won’t end up as one of the more beloved sports movies of all time, or even one of the most beloved baseball movies for that matter, it has just enough humor and compelling baseball backstory to keep the viewer invested in Moneyball and entertained throughout.