Review: Moneyball Entertains

Oh Moneyball, you're a clever little film. You've done something important, something weighty, and you've done it with panache. Verve, even. The degree of difficulty involved in taking a complex theme (the concept of undervalued assets) and molding it into a coherent and entertaining two-hour film is substantial, but they've pulled it off. Though more abstract than most mainstream films, Moneyball is still a movie that should appeal to a broad audience.

In the film version of Moneyball, adapted from the Michael Lewis book, Brad Pitt plays Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane. He's driven to win because he hates losing, only he knows he can't simply go out and spend 100 million dollars on high-priced talent. Brad Pitt doesn't do anything particularly noteworthy here, but he doesn't take anything off the table either. Jonah Hill (as assistant GM Peter Brand, though in real life his name was Paul DePodesta) is as quiet as you've ever seen him, a credit to his range, and Philip Seymour Hoffman is truculent and stubborn as A's manager Art Howe even though he's in only about 10 minutes of the film. But where Moneyball really shines is by humanizing the metrics revolution in baseball. Screenwriters Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin have delivered a script that is wry and humorous, offering something entertaining for everyone from fantasy baseball players to soccer moms.

The story of the Oakland Athletics in the early 2000s, Moneyball is the tale of a management team that did things a little differently. Baseball, unlike the three other major sports, has no salary cap, no guarantee that all the teams are competing with an equal amount of resources. It's inherently unfair, a market economy, and the small market teams have a tough time competing for the higher priced players due to less revenue. So how does one compete under these conditions? By getting intellectually nimble, which is precisely what Beane did.

For 100 years there was a school of thought that said you could tell everything you needed to know about a ballplayer from watching him, the way he swung, the way he carried himself. Results were important, sure, but where it came to measuring how teams actually won baseball games, the methodologies were woefully ignorant. Tradition ruled the day, and teams acted illogically because that was simply "the way things were done." But out there in the baseball wilderness was a kid named Bill James who thought many of the experts had it all wrong. Like all change agents throughout history, his ideas were at first universally rejected and despised. Then a radical few like Billy Beane came on board. Now the idea of utilizing your assets efficiently and looking for value on the cheap holds sway over the majority of decision makers. Sure, there are statistical battles still being waged in baseball, but the war is pretty much over as most MLB teams now rely on advanced analytical reasoning to build their teams. Billy Beane won the larger war, but that's not where the tension of Moneyball is to be found. The day in, day out grind of running a major league baseball team where you're being outspent by a factor of five while still trying to be a good dad is what makes Moneyball compelling, and it gets stronger as the film flies by. It sounds hyperbolic, but I didn't want it to end and I'd like to see a sequel. If you're a fan of well-paced adult dramas, Moneyball pays in a big way.

Grade: A-