What the hell is a movie star? Are they not just well-known names that sell blockbuster movies? They are, and the problem with them is that it sometimes becomes impossible to see their character rather than the movie star themselves.
Brad Pitt in Mr. and Mrs. Smith was Brad Pitt. No one cared about Mr. Smith. They cared about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie going at it.
In Moneyball, Brad Pitt is Billy Beane. It’s his best performance to date. Forget Benjamin Button. Forget Tyler Durden.
That’s primarily what carries the film. The movie isn’t about the Oakland A’s, it isn’t about sports, it’s about one thing: one man’s fight to upend an old system.
Billy Beane’s playing career was a product of that old, decrepit system. Beane looked like a super star, he was strong, physical and fast. But he couldn’t play baseball. This haunted him in his general managing career and he forged a new way of looking at players – one that cut away all the crap and bias and focused on statistics.
But when you try to change things, the old school will come down on you. Bennett Miller’s film focuses on that. It focuses on the hardship Beane faced when trying to change the system. His manager, played brilliantly by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, fought him constantly. His scouts didn’t understand and he was getting torn apart by the press, which eventually reaches the ears of his daughter.
There’s plenty to like here. The overall character study of a driven man looking to change the game will appeal to most non-sports fans. The behind-the-scenes look into the world of baseball will have baseball fans happy. The trade deadline and Beane’s phone call with notorious sports agent Scott Boras particularly. Jonah Hill’s dramatic turn is great too. He’s absolutely perfect.
The movie is based on the book by Michael Lewis, although it doesn’t follow that all the way through. As always, the book has a layer of depth that isn’t available in the film version. But when hasn’t that been the case?
What’s been constructed here is a great business movie. If you want a pure sports film go see Warrior. If you want a smart, intelligently crafted film about a driven man looking to change the world he loves, as well an Oscar-worthy performance for Brad Pitt, you’ll be hard pressed to find anything better than Moneyball.