Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Review: Moneyball

Baseball has always been far more interesting in movie form than in real life. Moneyball puts the romance, suspense and nostalgia of the game to the ultimate test, attempting to make front-office number crunching into compelling drama.

Other than the assumption that baseball is movie magic, there’s no reason Moneyball should be remotely watchable, let alone freaking amazing, which it surely is. Some Brad Pitt fans have no doubt declared that he’s such a magnetic personality that he could make a two-hour reading of the phone book interesting. This is the movie in which Pitt tries out the theory, only switching out phone numbers for on-base percentages.

Pitt plays Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane, who, judging from an early-film montage, was the worst baseball player in the history of mankind before tossing his hands up and trying to make it as a suit. According to the montage, Beane struck out in every at-bat, and never once was able to maneuver himself close to a ball that was hit to him. You know, pretty much like every Kansas City Royal in the last 25 years.

But one thing Beane can do is patch together a team of rag-tag misfits who make less than Taco Bell employees and turn them into a marauding machine that’s nearly as dominant as the Bad News Bears were at the end of their movies. Clearly possessing that which Genesis once referred to as “That invisible touch, yeah,” With a boy wonder, Yale economist sidekick (Jonah Hill) on his hip, Beane picks through the garbage heap of Major League baseball, uses crazy inventions called “math” and “spreadsheets” to identify winning qualities that other teams overlook, then gives them pep talks that make them want to get out onto that field and take as many walks as possible.

In layman’s terms, Beane takes a team and spins it off into a separate entity called Wynsterz, nodding in that cocky, I’m-Brad-Pitt-And-You’re-Not fashion as all the naysayers call him an idiot, then chuckling as the Wynsterz wins the AL West by 100 games while also getting users to pay double the price for cracked DVDs.

While there is some stirring on-field action to spice things up, most of this film is dialogue, meaning the screenwriters are every bit as much the stars of the film as Pitt. The writing sings because it’s so witty and clever, managing to talk about poignant life stuff such as family, loyalty and determination while pretending to reference fielding percentages and signing bonuses.

Director Bennett Miller handles the impossible film with the skill of his protagonist. He’s clearly a filmmaker who relishes a challenge, which is why I expect him to do just as well with his next project, IRS Tax Code: The Animated Musical.

Starring Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Robin Wright. Written by Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, based on a Stan Chervin story, which in turn was based on a Michael Lewis book. Directed by Bennett Miller. Rated PG-13. 133 minutes.

My novel, Stormin' Mormon, is available as a Kindle book for $1.

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