Based on Michael Lewis's non-fiction book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, this sports drama sees Brad Pitt's general manager Billy Beane trying to build his thrifty Oakland A's (budget: $38 million) into a team capable of overthrowing the mighty New York Yankees (budget: $120 million). After taking their opponents to the wire in the postseason, Beane finds his best players poached by richer opposition and unable to replace them.
An encounter with Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), an economics graduate fresh out of Yale, leads Beane to hatch a pioneering approach to baseball recruitment. Crunching the numbers, the pair prioritise a batter's ability to reach the base above all else. Assembling a group of castaways from what Brand calls an "island of misfit toys", Beane eventually pulls together a team of underdogs that mounts a record-breaking winning streak.
Like all revolutionaries, Beane and Brand find resistance, chiefly from the old-school scouts and A's manager Art Howe (an inscrutable Philip Seymour Hoffman). Stripping away the romanticism in favour of statistics presents teething problems, and it's Beane's ability to weed out the bad eggs from the locker room that strikes the right team chemistry.
There's an electrifying scene in the film where Pitt works the phones to trade away one of his star players to bring in a lesser name with better stats. Who'd expect that excitement from a talky baseball movie?!
Moneyball loosely follows the trajectory of a sports film, but refreshingly there's no last-gasp euphoria. Director Bennett Miller stays true to the events that unfolded and wisely keeps the on-field action to a minimum, perhaps realising that sport, the great unscripted entertainment, doesn't have the same impact when faked in a narrative.
Pitt hits top form as Beane, a man who'd rather drive around aimlessly than watch his own team play, still feeling the sting of his own failures as a major league player. It's an effortless, laid-back performance at a counterpoint to his showier turns in Fight Club and Twelve Monkeys. He exhibits the kind of low-key charisma recently on show in The Assassination of Jesse James and The Tree of Life. Pitt seems to be a movie star intelligently redefining himself.
Though Moneyball isn't a "pure" Aaron Sorkin movie (he shares a co-writing credit with Steven Zallian), the West Wing's creator's touch can be felt across the film. It's a fascinating, often humorous picture of behind-the-scenes business shufflings and innovation. Like Sorkin's White House and Facebook shenanigans before, this movie isn't necessarily about the subject that looms large, more the drama and conflicts happening to the characters pulled into its orbit.
Moneyball is a wonderful surprise, a movie about people shunning sporting romance that somehow manages to still embrace it. A magnificent home run.