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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Moneyball (review)

Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill in Moneyball

“It’s hard not to be romantic about baseball.” Thank god Brad Pitt’s (The Tree of Life) Billy Beane, general manager of the Oakland A’s, says this near the very end of Moneyball. Because I had been reduced to a slobbering gushy mess by the end of this gloriously entertaining movie even though I’d spent the entirety of the running time before this marveling at how this is the least sentimental baseball movie ever. It is, after all, about applying a science to a game that has always been associated with things emphatically the opposite: the superstitious and the spiritual. It is the true story — based on Michael Lewis’s book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.] — of how Beane, with the help of economist-turned-assistant GM Peter Brand (Jonah Hill: Get Him to the Greek), semifictionalized from the real Paul DePodesta, overcame enormous financial constraints — ie, Beane’s got no money to bring in or keep star players — to field a record-breakingly winning team in the 2002 season. Beane and Brand go after players with (seemingly) career-ending injuries, weird techniques, and other oddities that make them appear unworthy of an MLB uniform, because they focus on small details rather than big ones: many players who can get on base, for instance, are better than one hotshot who can hit lots of homeruns. Detractors deride it as statistical-gimmickry — Brand’s method involves spreadsheets and formulas and doesn’t care, as Beane’s old-fashioned scouts do, whether a player’s “ugly” girlfriend indicates a lack of confidence — and even Beane likens it to winning at poker by counting cards. The beauty of Beane’s madness really is, in fact, that it doesn’t remove those aspects of the game that are unquantifiable — the heart, the soul — but bring it back. Beane takes a game that has been conquered by corporate money and superstars and makes it, once again, about intuition — everyone figures Beane for a lunatic when he announces his plan, and he has only his own trust in himself and in Brand’s genius that it will pay off — and teamwork, for director Bennett Miller (Capote) does beautifully depict how Beane’s statistically gimmicky players are nevertheless uniquely quirky individuals who do need to come together as a team in order to win. So, you know, it’s okay to cry tears of joy at the end. The romance of baseball remains intact.

Watch Moneyball online using LOVEFiLM‘s streaming service.

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Moneyball (2011)
US/Can release: Sep 23 2011
UK/Ire release: Nov 25 2011

Flick Filosopher Real Rating: rated BBG: berry berry good for baseball
MPAA: rated PG-13 for some strong language
BBFC: rated 12A (contains infrequent strong language)

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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