Pitt's Moneyball hits a home run

- Moneyball. Directed by Bennett Miller. Starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill.

Rating: 7 (out of 10)

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It has to be said that my favourite parts of a live baseball game are singing during the seventh-inning stretch, and when the kids race the dogs around the bases. And watch it on TV? Never.

Therefore, director Bennett Miller (Capote), along with writers and cast have pulled off a coup: getting me to wholeheartedly enjoy a film that isn't just about baseball (yawn), it's about the business of baseball (snore).

Moneyball has got all the trappings of a great sports movie -- an underdog team, a hero past his prime -- but it's told from the fresh perspective of a guy who thinks he's jinxed, and can't even leave his office when the game is on.

The film starts with a Mickey Mantle quote and real footage from the 2001 season, where Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) is losing, again. The Yankees, with their seemingly endless pockets, keep pilfering players from Beane's team. We're like their farm team, Beane rails: "organ donors for the rich." He begs for more money, but is told point blank: "we're a small market team, and you're a small market GM."

Beane is faced with replacing two of his star players on a shoestring budget, while his scouts come up with the same old Band-aid solution that keeps the A's at the bottom of the league. Then, during a meeting with the Cleveland Indians, Beane notices that management keeps whispering to a chubby guy wearing a bad tie. It's clear that Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) was picked last every gym class, but he knows a thing or two about baseball.

Beane hires him. Peter, fresh from Yale, is a fan of the methodology of Bill James, whose theory suggested that major league teams shouldn't be looking for big hitters, but guys who could simply get on base.

So start the flow charts, grid and code. Beane is putting all his balls in one basket, so to speak, but Peter assures him "we'll find value in players that no one else can see". In some cases that logic means converting catchers into first basemen, or signing guys who can barely run to first base, putting together a team "like an Island of Misfit Toys"

"Baseball isn't just numbers," protests the head scout (Ken Medlock, who has made a career out of playing umpires and coaches). Beane's eagerness to bypass scouting methodology stems from his own sad history, when he was persuaded to turn down a scholarship to Stanford to pursue professional baseball. In flashbacks we watch as a younger Beane (Reed Thompson) endures strikeout after strikeout, a quick dissemination of his self-confidence, a slow ride back to the minors, then out of the bullpen altogether.

The villain in this story is head coach Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who may have to deal with the players he is given, but runs his own roster contrary to Beane and Peter's system. Howe feels neutered by the stats-based system; plus he's in a huff because his contract hasn't been renewed.

Adapted from a non-fiction best-seller by Michael Lewis, screenwriters Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) and Stephen Zaillian (American Gangster, Schindler's List) craft a screenplay that's full of witty patter as Beane's story unfolds.

This is Beane's story first, a story about a revolutionary system second, with the fate of the Oakland Athletics pulling up the rear. A little more shots on the field, watching the philosophy at work, would be welcome. As is, the success or failure of the Oakland A's -- you decide -- rests squarely on Beane's shoulders.

Pitt follows up The Tree of Life with another stellar performance. He doesn't hide his handsomeness, though a cheek full of chew doesn't flatter him, but plays it (somewhat autobiographically?) as a guy whose great genes are failing him, and who needs to find another way to get his point across.

Pitt excels, whether he's throwing things around the locker room, or spending single-dad time with his 12-year-old daughter (Kerris Dorsey). A great film about the business of baseball.

Julie Crawford

- Moneyball. Directed by Bennett Miller. Starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill.

Rating: 7 (out of 10)

It has to be said that my favourite parts of a live baseball game are singing during the seventh-inning stretch, and when the kids race the dogs around the bases. And watch it on TV? Never.

Therefore, director Bennett Miller (Capote), along with writers and cast have pulled off a coup: getting me to wholeheartedly enjoy a film that isn't just about baseball (yawn), it's about the business of baseball (snore).

Moneyball has got all the trappings of a great sports movie -- an underdog team, a hero past his prime -- but it's told from the fresh perspective of a guy who thinks he's jinxed, and can't even leave his office when the game is on.

The film starts with a Mickey Mantle quote and real footage from the 2001 season, where Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) is losing, again. The Yankees, with their seemingly endless pockets, keep pilfering players from Beane's team. We're like their farm team, Beane rails: "organ donors for the rich." He begs for more money, but is told point blank: "we're a small market team, and you're a small market GM."

Beane is faced with replacing two of his star players on a shoestring budget, while his scouts come up with the same old Band-aid solution that keeps the A's at the bottom of the league. Then, during a meeting with the Cleveland Indians, Beane notices that management keeps whispering to a chubby guy wearing a bad tie. It's clear that Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) was picked last every gym class, but he knows a thing or two about baseball.

Beane hires him. Peter, fresh from Yale, is a fan of the methodology of Bill James, whose theory suggested that major league teams shouldn't be looking for big hitters, but guys who could simply get on base.

So start the flow charts, grid and code. Beane is putting all his balls in one basket, so to speak, but Peter assures him "we'll find value in players that no one else can see". In some cases that logic means converting catchers into first basemen, or signing guys who can barely run to first base, putting together a team "like an Island of Misfit Toys"

"Baseball isn't just numbers," protests the head scout (Ken Medlock, who has made a career out of playing umpires and coaches). Beane's eagerness to bypass scouting methodology stems from his own sad history, when he was persuaded to turn down a scholarship to Stanford to pursue professional baseball. In flashbacks we watch as a younger Beane (Reed Thompson) endures strikeout after strikeout, a quick dissemination of his self-confidence, a slow ride back to the minors, then out of the bullpen altogether.

The villain in this story is head coach Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who may have to deal with the players he is given, but runs his own roster contrary to Beane and Peter's system. Howe feels neutered by the stats-based system; plus he's in a huff because his contract hasn't been renewed.

Adapted from a non-fiction best-seller by Michael Lewis, screenwriters Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) and Stephen Zaillian (American Gangster, Schindler's List) craft a screenplay that's full of witty patter as Beane's story unfolds.

This is Beane's story first, a story about a revolutionary system second, with the fate of the Oakland Athletics pulling up the rear. A little more shots on the field, watching the philosophy at work, would be welcome. As is, the success or failure of the Oakland A's -- you decide -- rests squarely on Beane's shoulders.

Pitt follows up The Tree of Life with another stellar performance. He doesn't hide his handsomeness, though a cheek full of chew doesn't flatter him, but plays it (somewhat autobiographically?) as a guy whose great genes are failing him, and who needs to find another way to get his point across.

Pitt excels, whether he's throwing things around the locker room, or spending single-dad time with his 12-year-old daughter (Kerris Dorsey). A great film about the business of baseball.

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