Directed by: Bennett Miller
Written by:Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin, Stan Chervin
Starring: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright, Chris Pratt, Stephen Bishop
Released: November 10, 2011
Grade: A-

We see a bunch of feel-good sporting flicks released every year.  They generally focus on an athlete or team that has hit rock bottom.  They then find some way of overcoming adversity and achieve the ultimate victory.  I’ve mentioned before that I’d love to see the reverse film made (where a successful team disintegrates) but I don’t think it’d sell as many tickets.

Whilst it doesn’t quite go that far, Moneyball is something different.  The filmmakers haven’t given in to traditional formulas.  They’re trying to pull back the curtain and show the world of baseball from a different perspective.  I read a quote from Tommy Craggs in GQ magazine that best summed up the film – “it’s Rudy meets Microsoft Excel!”

Instead of the focus being on the coaches or the players, Moneyball’s two central characters are a general manager and a statistician.  The year was 2002 and the GM for the Oakland A’s, Billy Beane (Pitt), found himself with his back against the wall.  The club was struggling financially and they had the lowest available payroll in the entire league – just $38m.  This left them well below the successful New York Yankees who had more than three-times that amount to spend.

It was a tough reality for Beane to face.  Even if the Oakland A’s could find and develop talented players, they’d likely get snapped up a year or two later but a more profitable team.  This problem isn’t as big in Australia given many of our sports have a “salary cap” but I realise how frustrating it can be.

For example, there are 20 teams that compete each year in the English Premier League football and yet just 3 teams (Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal) have won the title over the past 16 years.  They have the power to dominate with their huge bankroll and it must be disheartening to fans from other clubs.

Beane came across a young statistics guru (Hill) and together, they combined to change the sport.  They crafted a complicated statistical formula that could value players on the open market.  This could then be used to snap up undervalued players and pull them together to create a winning team.  This didn’t sit well with the scouts who felt the system overlooked key criteria such as injuries and confidence.  The coach (Hoffman) also rebelled against Beane and his “fortune cookie wisdom”.

How did it all end up?  Those with a close knowledge of baseball should know the answer but for those unfamiliar, I’ll let you see the movie and find out for yourself.  Keep in mind what I said earlier – it is a little different.

I admit that a movie that shines the spotlight on the “business” nature of sports could have been a tough sell to wider audiences.  In Moneyball’s instance, this argument has been countered by casting Brad Pitt in the leading role.  He’s still one of Hollywood’s most bankable actors and the film’s healthy $70m take in the United States highlights this fact.

He’s not just a pretty face.  Over the past 5 years, Pitt has crafted a resume of which any actor would be jealous – The Tree Of Life, Inglourious Basterds, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, Burn After Reading and BabelMoneyball will most likely earn him a third Academy Award nomination.  It’ll be well deserved too.  He portrays Beane as confident guy with a great sense of humour.  Equally impressive is Jonah Hill (Superbad) who proves he can make the transition from comedy to drama.

I’m a sucker for sporting flicks and I was lucky enough to attend this film’s world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival back in September.  It reeled me in very quickly with its interesting story, a few surprising twists and an unexpected number of laughs.  I’m confident that you’re going to like it!