I don’t get very excited about baseball, unless I’m in the stands and a foul ball is heading my way. And statistics confuse me, even if you put them in an animated graph with bright colors. So while Moneyball held a lot of baseball talk and ideas on choosing affordable players solely by their statistics, my attention was turned to the human elements of Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) and Peter Brand (Jonah Hill).
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the plot and tension created by the idea of approaching building a baseball team from a different angle. While the Yankees seem to have unlimited money to spend on the most sought after players, the Oakland A’s have a much, much smaller budget. The playing field created by money is not at all fair, but it seems that only Billy understands that the A’s must adapt to survive. Then he finds Peter Brand, working with the Cleveland Indians. What he sees is in baseball is breaking down all baseball players into detailed statistics and builds a team that is able to make the most runs. Keeping that goal in mind, Billy hires Peter to help build a worthy and affordable team for the A’s.
Of course, there is opposition to the idea of building a baseball team straight off the numbers. The experienced scouts, depicted as old men eating donuts, cannot wrap their heads around finding new talent this way. They get hung up on oddities and personality defects that sometimes have nothing to do with playing ability; age, behavior, how attractive their girlfriends are. Even once the team is assembled, Billy and Peter have to fight with the hardheaded coach, Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to get him to play the players as they were designed.
While on the surface, Brad Pitt’s Oscar nominated performance makes Billy seem mostly concerned with baseball, he has an intriguing personal life and back story. We get flashbacks to him being recruited into professional baseball straight out of high school and having to choose between that and his scholarship to Stanford. It is clear that he did not understand all the opportunities he gave up for a baseball career, that sadly did not pan out. Now, as a struggling manager, we see him deal with a lot of frustration in physical ways, from working out, to driving his truck like a maniac in an empty parking lot. On top of all that, he is divorced and struggles to make time to visit his twelve year old daughter. I think she lovingly describes Billy best in her song, “You’re such a loser, dad. Just enjoy the show.”
I was happily surprised with Jonah Hill’s Oscar nominated portrayal of Peter. With an economics degree from Yale, and looking like the kid picked last on the playground, Peter feels like an unlikely person to find his first job in professional baseball. I imagined him more likely to have a fantasy baseball team, or a Dungeons and Dragons guild, but I loved how one of his favorite players was one of the most undervalued players, nicknamed The Waddler. Thing is, Peter is so quiet, shy and insecure through most of the film that we never learn much about him outside of the job, and that’s okay, he’s only a supporting character. Hill and Pitt work well off together to lift each other’s character up. Hill depicts Peter perfectly, from all his mild, thoughtfully quiet moments to achievements that slowly build up his confidence. And that is such a refreshing change of pace from his usual foul mouthed comedies. I hope to see him in more serious roles.
Along with the two acting nominations, Moneyball earned six total Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Film Editing, Sound Mixing and Adapted Screenplay.
While Moneyball is a movie centered around sports and sports talk, and it helps to enjoy and understand baseball, it does not cater only to sports fans. It is a kind of underdog story that values brains over brawn, and money. We understand how much is at stake with this new way of thinking and we can’t help but hope that it works out. Surprisingly, the film does not cop out into the typical big win ending, but that does not mean the experiment has failed. The focus is on the people behind the players, their struggles and how they changed how the game is played.
“Baseball thinking is medieval. They are asking all the wrong questions. And if I say it to anybody, I’m-I’m ostracized. I’m-I’m-I’m a leper.”
If the Academy wants to award a thoughtful, unconventional underdog movie, Moneyball will win the Oscar for Best Picture.