In the same way that I am a sucker for trailers, I am a sucker for sports movies. There are plenty of bad sports movies out there. So many have been made that the cliches are easy to spot and pretty much a kiss of death if the film is going for critical acclaim. Typically, I see all those cliches, but the movie finds a way to tug on my heartstrings anyway.
Moneyball sidesteps the formula so neatly it is as if it was never a concern. It is an underdog film, but winning is not this movie’s primary (or even secondary) concern. When other films decide to end the season with a loss, there is usually a lesson to be learned–something they try to beat the audience over the head with like, “family is more important” or “at least you went after your dreams.” Moneyball isn’t interested in that either. Its goal is bigger than a win–its goal is changing the game of baseball.
Brad Pitt plays real-life Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane. He commits to the character’s depth in a way I have never seen from Pitt. He is calm and smooth with other managers, weaving tricks and fast-talking dialogue to get what he wants. He burrows into Beane’s disappointment and inadequacy with intensity and intelligence. After reading the book, the biggest concern I had with Pitt playing the GM was how physically imposing and terrifying Beane is supposed to be. But when Pitt throws things against the wall or breaks a player’s stereo with a stray baseball bat, you don’t question that Pitt is Billy Beane.
Acting chops also go to Jonah Hill, who sheds his funnyman persona to play Peter Brand, a Yale grad with an economics degree who has the smarts and method to turn the art of putting together a baseball team on its head. It is a mark of how well-acted the role is that you never once see a flicker of Superbad in the character. Hill is serious, earnest, and desperate to be a part of a world that has clearly never had any interest in him.
So this film is well-acted. I would even say beautifully acted. But its strength comes in that goal of changing baseball. Beane says he wants what they are doing to mean something. It is almost a jab at other sports films–success is not enough when your intent is to leave a mark on the game.
In that sense, Moneyball is a roaring success. It demanded more of itself so that it was not just a good sports movie–it is a good film. It not only captures the intensity and sadness that comes with a life in the world of baseball, but also basic human truths that you can find outside the game, too.