out of Five
Running time: 123
Impressively directed and sharply written, this is a hugely enjoyable, largely cliché-resistant sports drama with great performances from Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill.
What's it all about?
Directed by Bennett Miller (Capote), Moneyball is based on the non-fiction book by Michael Lewis and stars Brad Pitt as ex-baseball-player-turned-general-manager Billy Beane. His small budget team the Oakland Athletics (the A's) keep losing all their best players to higher-paying bigger clubs, leaving Billy the seemingly impossible task of rebuilding the team on a tiny budget. However, when Billy meets number-crunching economics graduate Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), Peter convinces him that there's a way to field a successful team comprised of cheap and in some cases written-off players, based purely on how often they get on base.
Derided by both baseball commentators and his own team of professional scouts, Billy makes Peter his assistant manager and pushes ahead with the plan. At first, it seems like a disaster and the team lose almost all their first few games, but after out-manoeuvring his resistant coach (Philip Seymour Hoffman as Art Howe), Billy suddenly finds himself riding a record-breaking winning streak ...
Brad Pitt is superb as Billy and there's a previously unseen middle-aged world weariness to his performance (heightened slightly by casting younger actor Reed Thompson in the flashback scenes) that gives the character an edge and works well. He also has terrific chemistry with both Jonah Hill (who shines in a rare straight dramatic role and delivers his best screen performance to date as a result) and Kerris Dorsey as his 12 year old daughter Casey.
The intelligent script is co-written by two of Hollywood's most successful screenwriters (Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian), so it's no surprise that it's packed with great dialogue, but they also manage to convey both the mathematics of the Moneyball system and the over-abundance of baseball jargon without alienating non-baseball-fans. On a similar note, the script's use of flashbacks is extremely cleverly done, making a strong point about Billy's motivation and why he would take a chance on Peter in the first place, but without hammering it home in the dialogue.
In addition, the film neatly avoids the usual clichés and resists the sports movie temptations of sugary sentimentality – the climax of the winning streak sequence is extremely well directed, though they do themselves out of a decent tear-jerking scene in the process.
Moneyball is a hugely enjoyable, emotionally engaging and intelligent sports drama with a superb script and terrific performances from Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill. Highly recommended.