Billy Beane has a lofty goal: he wants to change the game of baseball. He originally thinks that the only way to do that is to win the last game of the season in the World Series. But “Moneyball” isn’t about winning, it is about how Beane learns that while winning is important, how you play the game is everything.
Director Bennett Miller’s second feature film following 2005’s excellent and Oscar nominated “Capote” is an impressive achievement. “Moneyball” is a film about literally inside baseball, but it should play well even to non-baseball fans. Part of the broader appeal is the presence of Brad Pitt who plays Billy Beane as a tortured perfectionist. But the universal attraction of the film is its script penned by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network”) taken from a book written by Michael Lewis (“The Blind Side”). Technical speak is rattled off throughout the film but not at the same fevered pace that made “The Social Network” both brilliant and exhausting. And Miller smartly takes time away from all the facts and figures giving Pitt room to emote. Pitt does so well with the character that it isn’t surprising awards buzz is in the air.
While “Moneyball” covers Beane’s attempt to lead the Oakland A’s to victory on a relatively smallish budget compared to other teams in the league, it is really about one man’s journey to find his calling. And I don’t think that his purpose is all about winning. The A’s did win using the techniques Beane utilized, but ultimately their success was eclipsed by teams with more resources. The idea that he was able to even compete is amazing. And baseball fans already know that the concepts have changed the game forever.
“Moneyball” has real heart. Beane’s relationship with the game of baseball is developed along side of his strained relationship with his daughter. We learn in one uncomfortable scene that Beane is divorced and his ex-wife has remarried well. Beane travels to his ex’s spacious modern mansion to pick his daughter up for visitation and he sits there with his ex (Robin Wright) and her laid back sandal-wearing husband (played by director Spike Jonze). Awkwardly they try on conversation for an excruciating moment. The scene is so very real, it is tough to watch—folks in the screening I attended laughed to relieve the tension. Later we meet Beane’s remarkable daughter (a breakout Kerris Dorsey), and an exchange between them in a music store is so good that I still find myself moved thinking about it. Parents who have gone through this kind of thing will immediately engage with the story regardless whether they know anything about baseball.
“Moneyball” is a terrific film filled with epiphanies big and small. It makes a point about winning that is sophisticated and left me with a deep appreciation for anyone who tries to do something revolutionary and is afraid of failure but doesn’t let that fear stop them.