Green Green Grass of Home
by Don Jaucian

Moneyball (2011)
D: Bennett Miller
S: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman 

Moneyball isn’t exactly two hours of math and baseball, but its first half tries to expound the statistical basis of Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane (played here by a lightly simmering Brad Pitt) and economics Yale grad Peter Brand’s (Jonah Hill) game-changing strategy in winning twenty games in a row. There are a lot of numbers flickering on the screen, statistical analysis, player abilities whittled down to numbers, an unconventional approach that, until the 2002 U.S. baseball season, exists only in theory.

After being gutted down by the New York Yankees in the 2001 post-season, Beane desperately tries to salvage what’s left of his team, a disheartening prospect especially with their meager budget. He’s already lost three of his star players to free agents. “The problem we’re trying to solve is there are rich teams and there are poor teams. Then there’s fifty feet of crap and then there’s us,” Beane howls to his scouts, sensing the impending doom of his team.

But Beane is relentless. And when he encounters Brand’s proposal to get new players using an unconventional approach in assessing player value, relying on their base percentage, he sees a new hope for the team. Initially, this doesn’t work for the team, a ragtag bunch of rejects and losers ridiculed by the rest of the baseball world. They are still a dud. Beane also faces opposition from the Oakland A’s coach Art How (Philip Seymour Hoffman), but when the team is gutted and Beane places unlikely players in different positions, the team goes on to win twenty consecutive games in the season, an unmatched feat in American League history.

Just like Chad Harbach’s celebrated debut novel The Art of Fielding, Moneyball doesn’t require a lot of baseball terminology Googling. The film’s concern is the Oakland A’s near-miraculous turn as baseball’s unlikely champions. Moneyball could have been a lesser film if it involved more staged sports montages, team practices, fan chanting, and team round-ups and pep talks. Instead, director Bennett Miller shows us how backroom baseball is more entertaining than the actual game. Players are traded from team to team like slaves, metaphorical guns are shot during boardroom meetings, and money, as always, ultimately becomes the center of the game. 

But the main spectacle of Moneyball is Brad Pitt’s super manager Beane. He upends every nook and cranny of baseball to prevent the Oakland A’s from crumbling. His faith on the team, no matter how backwards and disappointing their records are, is unwavering, something that requires superhuman strength and willpower. Beane swaggers from room to field, carrying the weight of expectations and ridicule thrown upon the entire team. His tricks are cold, bordering on inhumane, but his playbook dealings are only aimed at building a team that delivers and inspires.

Scattered here and there are some neat little stories: Chris Pratt’s deer-in-the-headlights turn as Scott Hatterberg, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s hammy coach, and Jonah Hill’s tightly leashed comedic verve. With all these sketchy characters piled into a heap, Moneyball becomes a motivational movie pinned with moments of personal triumph rather than a generic sports film.