It's an all but given that most professional baseball teams take advantage of sabermetrics to some degree or another these days, which makes it easy to overlook the fact that only a decade ago, the use of advanced quantitative analytics to rank players was in its infancy, if not wholly ignored. The adoption of sabermetrics by so many teams is largely credited to Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane, and the 2003 book "Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game."
Moneyball the movie had bounced around in pre-production for several years, to the point where I never expected it would see the light of day. Leading up to its release, I also assumed the story was out-of-date; Beane's heyday has seemingly passed, his Athletics having underperformed for the last five years, at least partially due to the fact that he no longer maintains a competitive advantage with his quantitative approach. Moneyball was too little, too late.
I was wrong.
Moneyball is a finely tuned and well-acted film, this year's The Social Network. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, the movie is co-written by Aaron Sorkin. It is also co-written by another Oscar winner, Steven Zaillian (Schindler's List, Gangs of New York).
Moneyball is a deeply engaging and surprisingly funny drama that fires on all cylinders, an unexpected curve ball if I've ever seen one. The weight falls largely on Brad Pitt's shoulders, who delivers an energetic and entertaining performance, one of the year's best.
He's supported by Jonah Hill, who plays his young assistant GM who introduces him to the concept of sabermetrics. Hill, in a rare dramatic role, plays off Pitt well; the two have strong chemistry together.
The movie is unique among sports movies. Whereas most focus on the players and the games they play, Moneyball is primarily focused on the behind-the-scenes action, the moves, planning and strategies that managed to make a $40-million payroll team a serious contender. Director Bennett Miller (Capote) wisely uses real footage for most of the baseball scenes, except for a few small moments here and there and the "climactic" baseball game in the third act.
Moneyball only has one flaw, and that's that it made me [momentarily] root for the Oakland Athletics. As a lifelong Seattle Mariners fan, I remember quite vividly going on vacation in August and returning to learn that the Mariners had imploded and the A's were coasting on a 20-game winning streak. It was not a good memory. On a funny note, though, the casting for still-active Raul Ibanez, who doesn't have a speaking part, is absurdly poor; he looks nothing like the player, not even the same race. The Seattle audience I watched the movie with laughed loudly when he was shown.
Moneyball is an energetic, highly engaging and entertaining drama that has serious end-of-year potential. An uplifting and fun film grounded by a strong performance by Brad Pitt and excellent screenplay by Sorkin and Zaillian, Moneyball is one of the better movies of 2011.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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