I don’t like inspirational movies. I don’t like sports movies. And I most certainly do not like inspirational sports movies. But Moneyball isn’t really any of those things. The film isn’t necessarily about any one team going all the way to win the World Series (though you definitely root for the Oakland Athletics). And half the film isn’t spent on the baseball diamond (in fact I think barely 15 minutes of the movie is spent on the diamond). Moneyball is about the leveling the playing field in the world of baseball.
Billy Beane (played by a quiet Brad Pitt), the general manager of the Athletics, is tired of losing to the Yankees on his tiny budget. Since he can’t get more money, Billy hires Peter Brand (a subdued Jonah Hill) as his assistant GM and together they use a statistical approach to hire players. But it’s not as simple as just throwing together a bunch of statistically good nobodies. Billy faces opposition from everyone for his radical dealings and even the coach (Philip Seymour Hoffman) take his advice and use the players the way they were meant to be used.
The first half of the film has a very slow boil. Perhaps, if screenwriter Aaron Sorkin had been in charge of the conversations, a good thirty minutes of the film could be shaved down; but his style is not befitting of these characters and Steven Zaillian keeps Sorkin in check (making the film move about as slowly as an actual baseball game). However, after a serious losing streak, Billy decides to take matters fully into his own hands and the pace of the film picks up greatly as he manipulates everyone into doing what they were supposed to be doing from the start.
The film works as both a commentary on the dynamics of baseball politics and also a history lesson on how the game was affected by this little revolution (the events all took place 10 years ago). For someone who has no interest in baseball, the film grabbed my attention. I was just as nervous as Billy to see how each game would end, and I got emotionally involved in the game montages.
However, I fail to see how this is one of the best pictures of 2011. It’s definitely a good movie, and it deserved the critical acclaim is garnered. But nothing about it was extraordinary. Jonah Hill managed a Best Supporting Actor nod, but all he did in this movie was play a serious part instead of the comedic ones he usually does. I think the nominations for the film are more indicative of a poor movie year than of this film’s true greatness (but that’s an argument for another time).