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McCoy on Movies: Moneyball Movie Review

McCoy on Movies: Moneyball Movie Review
Brad Pitt returns to the theaters this week in the big screen adaption of acclaimed sports book Moneyball. But is this take on the story a home run or a swing and a miss? Keep reading!
"If you looked as good as me and had my life, you'd always be smiling, too!" Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) gets ready for baseball with Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) in a scene from Bennett Miller's highly anticipated take on MONEYBALL.
Credit: Melinda Sue Gordon. © 2011 Columbia TriStar Marketing Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

KEY CAST MEMBERS: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Robin Wright, Philip Seymour Hoffman and a bunch of actors (and some former real Major League Baseball players) as baseball players
WRITER(S): Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin (screenplay); Stan Chervin (story); Michael Lewis (book)
DIRECTOR: Bennett Miller
WEB SITE:
www.moneyball-movie.com/

THE PLOT:
Based upon the wildly popular Micahel Lewis sports book of the same name documenting a (then) radical shift in thinking, Moneyball stars Brad Pitt in the role of real life Oakland Athletics (A's) general manager Billy Beane. A former player himself who still regrets never becoming be the "five tool" star scouts thought he would be, Billy has just seen the A's get eliminated in the 2001 Major League Baseball playoffs. Worse yet, not only have the A's gotten eliminated, but the offseason has seen their top three players - pitcher Jason Isringhausen, outfielder Johnny Damon and first baseman Jason Giambi - get scooped up by teams in bigger markets ... And deeper pockets. Making his usual off-season trips to try and find some way of boosting the A's roster, Billy strikes lightning in a bottle when he travels to Cleveland to discuss a trade with Indians general manager Mark Shapiro (Reed Diamond). For while he is not able to acquire any Indians players, Beane does himself one better by meeting Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a young 25 year-old working his first job ... Ever.

Impressed with Peter's silent but strong showing during a meeting with the Indians front office staff, Billy learns he is a fan of the The Bill James Baseball Abstracts. A radically different approach to looking at the game and how players perform, the book is a source of controversy and consternation for just about everyone in the game ... Except Peter and Billy. Determined to make the idea (now often referred to as "sabermetrics") work to their advantage by looking at undervalued players - such as the injured Scott Hatteberg (Chris Pratt), the over-the-hill David Justice (Stephen Bishop) and "ugly throwing" Chad Bradford (Casey Bond) - who can help their team compete, Billy might just change the game as we know it. A's manager Art Howe (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), however, isn't convinced it will work ... But if, like his daughter (Kerris Dorsey) fears, he fails, it might be his last shot at ever doing something meaningful in the game to which he has dedicated his life.

THE TAKE:
I was thinking of dubbing Moneyball an "older version of The Social Network for baseball fans" about 30 minutes into the movie long before discovering the script (originally written by Contagion's Steven Soderberg) was re-worked by Aaron Sorkin. Of course, that would be not only a case of over-simplifying the movie, but also providing an inaccurate description as well. Sure, there are a few sequences of snappy dialogue between Pitt and Hill as well as Pitt and his character's various detractors, but this is not that film. What Moneyball is, however, is a very well-constructed character study about a man trying to do whatever he can to succeed. And the way in which that concept is presented in Moneyball is not exclusive to sports, making it much more accessible to a wider audience without losing any of the vital details of the story. In short, while baseball fans will grab onto the film's content easily, the method in which director Bennett Miller works Lewis' story dives deeper into the life and history of Billy Beane will make non sports fans not only get what he's trying to do, but care about it as well. If you don't know about Pitt the actor as much as you do the tabloid superstar, his performance in the film will quickly remind you of why he first caught Hollywood's attention oh so long ago. Careful not to portray the character with arrogance, Pitt showcases a quality in Beane - having to be appear to be so confident because he knows that failure is not an alternative for him - that works quite well. His goals are common goals we all have in our lives; his just occur within the context of the national pastime and all of the factors that have led him to this point have him on the verge of sinking or swimming in grand fashion. What may be surprising to some, though, is the potential Best Supporting Actor level performance by Jonah Hill as Beane's assistant general manager. Approaching the role with no comedic leanings whatsoever, Hill quickly disregards any inclination to think of him as the genitalia-drawing, boozy teenager audiences discovered in Superbad. While most actors known primarily for comedy seemingly repeatedly feel a need to prove their dramatic range, Hill should have no concerns for the future based on his work in Moneyball. (Phillip Seymour Hoffman really doesn't have much of anything to do - someone has to play the manager, who is presented just another cog in the chain of command in the film - so there's really not much to say about his performance.) Throw in well constructed nuances such as talk radio, real footage, re-creations of actual moments and their importance to the story as a whole (as opposed to using those moments to make them all about the main character) and Miller swings - and connects - for the fences in grand fashion.

PARTING SHOT: A non-traditional sports movie that even non sports fans will at least find interesting due to its presentation, approach, characters and lack of clichés, Moneyball the movie has done what the real life Billy Beane hopes it will do on the field: Win.

RATING (OUT OF FOUR BUCKETS OF POPCORN):
Tabari McCoy -

Tabari McCoy is Cincy Chic's movie critic. You can check out more of his work on his blog at McCoyonMovies.BlogSpot.com and follow him on Twitter at @tabarimccoy

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