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Does Brad Pitt hit a home run with 'Moneyball'?

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Moneyball shouldn’t be a very interesting movie. The core material is fairly dry; it basically revolves around the idea that a complex set of mathematics can determine who will be the most successful baseball player on any said team. There isn’t much action, and the thrilling baseball sequences take a hard backseat to the story.  Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill in 'Moneyball.' Photo courtesy of Sony.

That said, Moneyball consistently fascinates, stimulates, and even touches. How does it pull it off?

Well, the first thing that works about Moneyball is Brad Pitt, who is eerily starting to channel Robert Redford’s twin (in a good way) at this stage in the game.

Pitt plays Billy Beane, the manager of the Oakland Athletics, a professional baseball team that has seen far better days. He is the shell of a major league player that was crushed by system many years back. Pitt incorporates all the wrinkles, and is better than he has been in years, holding a low-key stance but harboring a quiet intensity that’s simply magnetic.

The second reason Moneyball works is a cracker-jack script courtesy of Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin. Both screenwriters are Oscar powerhouses (Schindler’s List and Social Network anyone?), and the styles meld perfectly here. Sorkin brings the same sharp acerbic dialogue he’s known for, and it really illuminates the extensive talky sections of the film.

Both him and Zaillian also craft a quietly touching story that sidesteps the controversy of whether Moneyball actually works, and focuses rather on the core ideas. It’s an underdog story at heart about taking chances, about having the guts to attempt a major move to change an unfair playing field. This theme is captured expertly throughout.

Let’s not forget director Bennett Miller, who also deserves credit for bringing it all together. His staging assures that the silent moments (there are many) cut deep even without showy dramatics, and the few big moments are emotional gold, stirring and rousing in every way. He also engages the film with an excellent subtle score, courtesy of Mychael Danna.

 

The well crafted experience is rounded out by a terrific supporting turn by Jonah Hill (perfect casting), playing Ivy league graduate Peter Brand; he proposes the mathematical formula upon which players’ worth is determined by the runs they score as opposed to what they are individually worth in dollars.

Moneyball is a different kind of uplifting story. It’s about having faith and taking chances, but most importantly the film realizes that those chances are not always met with endorsement or even overall success. It’s more interested in stressing the trickle down effect such bold moves can produce. With that approach, the movie (mostly) sidesteps the controversial tactic and the disdain it has garnered from baseball fans.

 Moneyball transcends it all and results in an entertaining, vivid experience that can be enjoyed both in and out of the sports arena.

Contact Jim Teti at jteti@philly2philly.com

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