REVIEW: Brad Pitt Puts a Golden Spin on Moneyball
Young actors are wonderful creatures, breezing -- or busting -- on to the landscape as if from nowhere, indulging us in the delight of discovery. But the twin pleasure of finding a new actor is watching an older one sidestep into territory you don't expect, becoming someone you'd never have thought he could be. That's where we're at with Brad Pitt, who has never been better than he is in Bennett Miller's Moneyball. As Billy Beane, the beleaguered Oakland A's general manager who turned his team around by thinking outside the Major League Baseball box, Pitt works wonders by seeming to do nothing at all.
I remember how many critics marveled over Pitt's super-actory turn in Twelve Monkeys, announcing it as a breakthrough in the evolving actor's career. Moneyball is a much bigger breakthrough, and one that's harder to pull off: Now that Pitt no longer has brash youth on his side, he's digging deeper and doing more with less. It's the kind of acting -- understated but woven with golden threads of movie-star style -- that gives us more to look at rather than less.
The picture is an adaptation of Michael Lewis's book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game -- the script is by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, from a story by Stan Chervin -- and even if you think you don't care about baseball, I'd urge you to give it a try. The true measure of Moneyball's effectiveness may have less to do with how well it works for baseball fans than for how it plays with people who wouldn't know a triple play if it whacked them upside the head. I fall into the latter camp, but I was delighted by Moneyball: The picture works as a classic American sports movie but also cuts a window into a much less glamorous pursuit, that of keeping an ailing business alive with creativity and open-mindedness.
As the picture opens, Pitt's Billy Beane, in the last game of the 2001 season, is reckoning with the loss of some of his best players; they've been wooed away the Yankees and the Red Sox, or, more specifically, by dazzling salaries he can't afford to pay. Later, he sits around a table with a bunch of old-timers who think they know how to find good players, though their criteria includes assessments of how good-looking the guys' girlfriends or wives are. (According to the decree of one of these wise-ass Tarot readers, an ugly girlfriend means a player lacks confidence.) Beane isn't buying their collective shtick -- he eyes them with bemusement and a faint glimmer of disgust as he spits chaw into his cup -- for reasons that later become clear: He himself was drafted by the Mets in the late '70s, lured with promises that weren't exactly broken and weren't exactly kept. (Miller reveals that backstory in artfully carved-out slices that reinforce the contemporary story without bogging it down.) A somewhat-chance encounter with a pudgy Yale graduate whose head is filled with stats, Jonah Hill's Peter Brand, nudges Beane toward a new way of thinking about building a team: Find unflashy -- and cheap -- players who can at least get on base and, if possible, turn their weaknesses into strengths. As Beane observes at one point, he can't replace one of his star players, but he can "rebuild him in the aggregate."
The brilliance of this approach is that while it would seem to be based on an obsession with numbers as opposed to people, it's exactly the opposite: The stats are merely a way of finding the flawed human greatness that can, perhaps perversely, help you win. Beane hires Brand away from the team he's working for, the Cleveland Indians, and sets him to work on reinforcing the raggedy A's. The old-timers -- including manager Art Howe, played by a supremely grouchy Philip Seymour Hoffman -- all think Beane is nuts and flagrantly defy him. But if you know anything about baseball, or even just about baseball movies, you can guess how this all turns out.
Pages: 1 2