“Moneyball,” directed by Bennett Miller, is a masterclass in efficient storytelling and a uniquely beautiful tale of the human condition. This film is the true story of Billy Beane, played by Brad Pitt, general manager of the poorest team in Major League Baseball, the Oakland Athletics.
After years of losing to teams whose budget is three times his own, he is determined to change the way winning baseball is thought of. He employs the help of Peter Brand, played by Jonah Hill, to use numbers and analytics to find undervalued, but quantifiably efficient players to try and create a championship team.
Miller has only made three feature films to date but has had an extensive history of directing documentaries. His documentary background is evident in “Moneyball” as he combines found footage of real moments of the 22 game win streak of the 2002 Athletics and blends it seamlessly with footage of his actors, conveying the cultural importance of the team’s accomplishments.
Miller uses camerawork to grab the viewer and hold them in the film, putting the viewer in the headspace of the characters. Michale Danna’s score pairs well with the camerawork, weaving along with the emotional progress of the movie.
Among the star-studded cast of Hill and Pitt are the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman, Chris Pratt and Robin Wright. The supporting cast is even more impressive; each player of the Oakland Athletics is played by former professional baseball players.
Both Pitt and Hill were nominated for best leading actor and best supporting actors respectively, but Hill’s performance sticks out for how different of a role it was for him. Hill is known for very over the top comedic performances often paired with vulgar and very physical roles. Here we see Peter Brand, a young statistics analysis with much to say but not much to hear.
When we are introduced to Brand he seems to look at baseball as ones and zeros. However, we learn through his friendship with Beane that under a shy and timid demeanor he has a passion for baseball. His obsession with analytics is not to simplify baseball, but is rather a way for him to translate the game he loves in order to help his team. Hill’s controlled performance is extremely refreshing and functions as the bridge of the movie, tying together the two philosophies, baseball by passion and baseball by heart.
Chris Pratt is also in a new role that challenges him in a way that helps move the story. Pratt did “Moneyball” in a bit of a dead space in his career, between his television days and his breakout in “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
Pratt plays Scott Hatteburg, a free agent who suffered an apparent career ending injury but is deemed valuable in the eyes of Brand and Beane for his intangible skill to get on base. The only challenge is he must learn a completely new position, not a small challenge for a professional player. His struggle to re-learn the fundamentals of baseball is the mover of this story and his character acts as representative of the difficulty of change and trust in a new system.
His performance, like Hill’s, is one that is very held back as he struggles to regain confidence in his abilities. It was said in interviews with Pratt that while shooting scenes on the baseball field Miller would yell expletives at him in order to anger Pratt.
Additionally the ‘villains’ of the movie are played by baseball managers who in real life, to this day, hate Beane, and think he ruined baseball forever, providing an authenticity even in the supporting cast.
The heart of this movie asks, “How can we create change to a seemingly impossibly broken system?” This problem is not approached in a typical 80’s movie montage format, using quick cuts and rock music to show a zero to hero story; instead, it shows the struggle and the endless failure that comes when trying to create change within a system. Each development feels earned, which really helps Miller engage his audience and makes for an extremely empathetic story.
Beane shows us the exhausting process of changing the philosophy of a group. Before we can challenge a status quo we must be ready to stand by our own beliefs.
At the end of the day the Oakland Athletics historic season does not end in a typical glorious championship win that we see in most sports films today, but a loss. We are, instead, shown a moral victory of Beane changing baseball by making enough noise to be impossible to ignore.
Beane would forever change baseball, every team in Major League Baseball uses Beane’s method to this day.