PLOT: The true story of Oakland A's GM Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), who, in the 2002 baseball season, managed to turn his financially strapped team into a major contender, with the help of financial whiz kid Peter Brand (Jonah Hill). They used a formula that allowed them to assemble a team of financially undervalued players that, individually, didn't work, but as a team were almost unstoppable.
REVIEW: MONEYBALL is a film many never expected to get made. Initially a Steven Soderbergh project, with a script by Steven Zaillian; the risky premise, and Soderbergh's unconventional approach (which apparently would have made the film a semi-documentary), led the studio to cancel filming in order to dramatically rethink the way the story would be delivered to the screen. Soderbergh left the project, and Aaron Sorkin, hot of THE SOCIAL NETWORK was brought in to rewrite the script (he now shares credit with Zaillian).
In the hands of director Bennett Miller (CAPOTE), MONEYBALL is a much more conventional film than it would have been if Soderbergh had made it. Regardless of whether or not you enjoy baseball, or understand the formula behind Beane and Brand's work with the A's, MONEYBALL is meant to be pure, mass-market entertainment.
More than anything, MONEYBALL is a star vehicle for Pitt. As Beane, we get Pitt the way mainstream audiences seemingly want to see him. He plays a warm, easy-going character that's easy to root for, and he doesn't hide behind any make-up, or accents. That said, I prefer Pitt in his more unconventional choices, such as his great turn in INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, and this feel more like a Brad Pitt circa-LEGENDS OF THE FALL kind-of role.
Still, he's very good as Beane, who, the movie explains, was once a star prospect, but was ruined by the fact that scouts overvalued his ability, and led to him being used up as a ballplayer by the time he hit his early twenties. This explains why he's so quick to warm to Brand's formula, and the way Pitt plays him, he's a passionate devotee of the game, eager to change what he thinks is killing the sport; namely big paychecks and big money, where the team with the most cash wins. He wants to take the commerce out of the game, and considering the financially perilous times we live in, where big money and greed have ruined so much of what used to be good, it's certainly a relevant, timely premise.
As much as I liked Pitt (who's a likely best actor nominee depending on the rest of the season), the show is stolen by none other than Jonah Hill, playing it (for the most part) straight as the young, idealistic Brand. It's a real change of pace for Hill, that really pays off. He totally plays against the type he's found himself boxed in by, and his low-key performance has, deservedly, become the talk of the town. Will he be a best supporting actor nominee? Time will tell, but I'd say he has a strong chance.
To give credit where credit is due, Pitt and Hill happen to have some pretty good material to work with. I have no idea what percent of the script is Zaillian, and what's Sorkin, but this has the same crackling, intelligent dialogue that THE SOCIAL NETWORK had. Once again, Sorkin's seemingly distilled what could have been a complicated, impersonal story, and humanized it by focusing on what's important- mainly Beane & Brand's friendship, and Beane's relationship with his daughter (played in a refreshingly non-precocious way by Kerris Dorsey).
Phillip Seymour Hoffman also offers some valuable support as the A's grumpy coach, Art Howe, who's skeptical of Beane and Brand's risky ideas. Hoffman's great- reuniting with Bennett Miller, who directed him to an Oscar in CAPOTE, but truth be told, this is Pitt and Hill's show all the way.
As much as I liked MONEYBALL (and I really did enjoy it), I can't help but wonder what the film would have been had Soderbergh stayed on, and used some of his way-out ideas. It could have been a train-wreck, but it also could have made the film even more than what it is, which is a smarter-than-average crowd pleaser. Regardless, MONEYBALL is still exceptionally good entertainment, and a must-see by anyone's standard.