“Moneyball,” the new sports drama starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill, begins with the Mickey Mantle quote, “It’s unbelievable how much you don’t know about a game you’ve played all your life.” The legendary New York Yankees outfielder and first baseman played eighteen seasons in the big leagues but likely wouldn’t recognize the game as played in this behind-the-scenes drama.
Based on the book of the same name by Michael Lewis, Pitt plays Billy Beane, the real life General Manager of the Oakland A’s. Faced with having to piece together a pro team with a budget a fourth as large as the New York Yankees he breaks with one hundred years of baseball tradition—using scouts, instinct and guts—to find a scientific method to build a team on the cheap. With a Yale trained economist (Jonah Hill) he creates sabermetrics, a mind boggling combination of facts, figures and computer algorithms to recruit his team.
It all sounds very dry, but so did “The Social Network” before you actually sat down and watched it. “Moneyball” takes what cold be a dry subject of baseball stats and spices it up with complex, interesting characters, a compelling human story while leaving the usual sport’s movie clichés behind.
It moves at about half the speed of “The Social Network” but that’s OK we’re not dealing with the fast moving world of cyber space here but the more relaxed pace of America’s favorite pastime.
But this isn’t a baseball movie. Pitt and Hill, in a rare serious role, dominate the movie with their behind the scenes stories. Like “The Social Network” “Moneyball” places the onus on the characters and not the technology that drives the story. We’ve seen baseball movies before, but we’ve never sent the game from this angle. It’s a new take on the game, one that may leave Mantel scratching his head but should leave audiences rapt.