Directed by: Bennett Miller (Capote)
Starring: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright, Chris Pratt
I’m not sure who Bennett Miller’s Moneyball is made for. I’m not sure if the people behind Moneyball even know who it’s made for. In theory, it should at least appeal to someone like me. I’m a fan of baseball. I know who Billy Beane is, and I know the players depicted onscreen. I understand the use of the advanced statistics in quantifying the abilities of players. And while these are relevant to the film’s underdog story, Moneyball isn’t really the uplifting sports film it has been marketed as. The film’s conflicted nature doesn’t end there, either. It’s part buddy comedy, part family drama and part character study. The end result is a baseball-obsessed film that’s rarely focused on what happens on the field.
Moneyball is based on Michael Lewis’ nonfiction book of the same name, which profiles the Oakland Athletics’ General Manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt, at his most tanned and Californian). Both the book and film are all about Beane’s attempts at subverting traditional baseball scouting through the use of more esoteric and nerdy advanced statistics—exploiting what others have undervalued or mismanaged—as a means of keeping his financially destitute ball club competitive against teams with much, much bigger payrolls. The concept of a movie about statistics lacks some excitement, so the film ratchets up the outsider nature of what Beane and his dorky right-hand man Peter Brand (a likable Jonah Hill) are up to. It’s the same sort of behind-the-scenes insight co-writer Aaron Sorkin brought to The Social Network (2010), but here it feels lighter and lacks the same bite.
A lot of the film deals with the ridiculous nature of the “Moneyball” approach to baseball, a sport stubbornly steeped in tradition and extremely resistant to change. But since advanced statistical theory as applied to talent scouting isn’t much to drive a plot, the bulk of the film’s story comes from various subplots. A good bit of the film centers on the relationship between Billy and Pete, but the emotional center is clearly staged around Billy’s relationship to his daughter, Casey (Kerris Dorsey). Measured against the rest of the film, however, these family-drama segments feel sappy. Like Miller’s much-lauded Capote (2005), there’s a detachment—or a lack of emotional engagement—in the film that makes it difficult to really feel for Billy and his plight. Or maybe I just can’t muster much concern for a guy who worries about losing his job, yet can pay $250 grand out-of-pocket—as he does in one scene—to help get a player for the A’s.
Anyone looking for a traditional baseball picture will likely be disappointed, since we rarely see the team on the field. The one time we do—in Moneyball’s only bout of rote uplift—it feels forced, out of place and inconsequential. But this is the closest we get to dramatic tension, something the rest of the film sorely misses. Since we can’t care about Billy, and nothing really happens in the film, the entire picture feels paper thin. Yet the overall film still seems overstuffed and aimless thanks to its numerous plotlines. Moneyball is well-made and often entertaining, but it’s nothing more than that. Rated PG-13 for some strong language.