Superficially, you could call this a baseball movie. But it’s about far more than that, opening with a quote from Yankees great Mickey Mantle: “It’s unbelievable how much you don’t know about a game you’ve been playing your whole life.”
As a hotshot high school athlete, young Billy Beane faced a difficult choice: a full scholarship to Stanford University or a chance to play for the New York Mets. In rueful recollection, he regards his decision to sign with the Mets as the only decision he would ever make in his life about money.
After his playing career prematurely fizzled, Billy (Brad Pitt) worked his way from scout to general manager of the underdog Oakland Athletics, only to relinquish his three top players (Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon, Jason Isringhausen) to the big-money franchises of New York and Boston in 2001, after losing the American League division series. Unable to compete for high-priced athletes, Billy hooks up with Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a nerdy numbers-cruncher with an economics degree from Yale. Convinced that baseball’s conventional wisdom is wrong, Brand devises a sabermetric, or quantitative, approach to scouting players, based on Bill James’s pioneering statistical analysis. Convinced this unconventional concept may work, Billy signs undervalued players from across the country, assembling what Brand calls “an island of misfit toys.” Defying his development people, including surly, stubborn team manager Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and risking his career, Billy reinvents professional baseball.
Adapted by Steve Zaillian (“Schindler’s List”) and Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network”) from Michael Lewis’s best-seller and directed with focused, assured vision by Bennett Miller (“Capote”), it’s an inspiring, underdog story, set in Big League ballparks. Oozing charisma, Brad Pitt delivers an astonishingly accomplished performance, embodying brooding Billy Beane, a divorced dad who’s devoted to his teenage daughter (Kerris Dorsey), while Jonah Hill’s geeky Brant displays a slow, subtle accumulation of precisely observed details, culminating in a brilliantly understated effort.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Moneyball” slugs a terrific 10 out of the batter’s box and generating considerable Oscar buzz.