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Moneyball (Miller, 2011)

As a fan of baseball, Michael Lewisí book Moneyball and Aaron Sorkin screenplays, I had fairly high expectations for Bennett Millerís latest film. It came through.

Billy Beane (Played by Brad Pitt) is the General Manager of the Oakland Athletics. Following their 2001 dismissal from the MLB playoffs at the hands of the New York Yankees, three of the teamís most important players (Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon and Jason Isringhausen) take off in free agency for larger contracts that the cash-strapped Aís simply canít afford.

Oakland was in a pickle. The most talented players by traditional scouting standards were all going to command high salaries well out of the range of Oaklandís budget. So how are you supposed to put a winning product on the field? Beane became determined to put the right 25 players on the field and not necessarily the best 25 players. That left him looking for alternate, forward-thinking methods of evaluating who was a good player.

After a chance encounter with a young Yale economics graduate (Jonah Hill) when attempting to make a trade with the Cleveland Indians, Billy Beane finds his new method of advanced statistics to build a winner on a budget, despite objections from old guard scouts and coaches.

After building his unconventional roster, Beane runs into opposition from all angles. The manager, the scouts, the mediaÖeven his 12-year-old daughter asks if heíll be out of a job soon.

I really enjoyed Moneyball. The difficulty I run into in reviewing it is leaving the baseball fan in me behind and wondering what I would think of it had I not enjoyed the game or known all the little nuances about that 2002 Oakland team that the movie got right.

Outside of baseball, the movie is effective for the themes it explores of self-doubt perpetuated by a shaky inner-circle of close contacts. You walk away from the movie with the distinct impression that Billy Beane is one of the loneliest people on the face of the planet. Itís an interesting case study in the solidarity of the innovative thinker. The mold is fiercely defended from those that attempt to break it.

It is typical Aaron Sorkin. Itís subtly funny, smart and very fast-paced. There is a terrific scene in the movie where Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill are working the phones and playing general managers around the league in an attempt to get the ďmissing pieceĒ pitcher they feel they need. The speed of the scene is Sorkin to the fullest.

The best scenes though are when itís Jonah Hill and Brad Pitt alone. The two are a surprisingly good match and play off of each other very well. Both are very good and even in a crowded field this year, itís hard not to see Brad Pitt getting an Oscar nomination for this one. I was pleasantly surprised by Hill and hope this is a sign of more serious things to come from him.

One small complaint from me, that is strictly a baseball fan thing, is how much they downplayed the talent on that Athletics team. They made you feel like this was a team full of misfits, but they fail to mention that Barry Zito won the Cy Young award that year as the leagueís best pitcher and Aís shortstop Miguel Tejada won the MVP award. Tejada is briefly mentioned and Zito isnít seen in the film at all. I understand they were trying to push the ultimate underdog storyline, but I thought that was a little misleading.

Moneyball is rated PG-13 for some strong language.

Overall I would give Moneyball 4 out of 5. It is beautifully filmed, well acted and very entertaining.