By William Wolf


Sports films usually are geared to triumphs of athleticism with action the key ingredient, whether on the gridiron, diamond, basketball court or ice. “Moneyball,” highlighted at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival and now in commercial elease, strikes an entirely different stance, taking us behind the scenes to deal with the management and financial side of the picture. The baseball shown here, while containing a measure of actual competition and playing skills, is primarily big business. Director Bennett Miller and screenwriters Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, basing the film on a story by Stan Chervin and the book by Michael Lewis, press the right buttons to make the drama high-pitched, smart and engrossingly entertaining. What’s more, a real character is at the core.

Billy Beane, who became general manager of the Oakland A’s, is played by Brad Pitt, who gives a performance with charisma to spare. Beane is credited with having turned a losing team into a winning one by brashly defying the normal way of recruiting players and spending money, instead insisting that you don’t have to shell out the kind of big bucks the Yankees provide to build a winning team. He became convinced that there are less expensive alternatives for building a club.

Pitt, flashing a volatile, appealing personality, turns front office procedures upside down in this fascinating, colorful tale. He does so with the aid of Jonah Hill as Peter Brand, an aide who is laid back and on the shy side, but who is a demon when it comes to his brain power analyzing statistics and players with unusual promise. Beane and Brand make an engaging team.

Philip Seymour Hoffman as coach Art Howe has the job of showing his utter disdain for what Beane is attempting, and he gives a strong performance rebelling against what he regards as horrendous decisions by Beane, who overrules him at every turn. But there is nothing like success to make an impact.

You don’t have to be a baseball fan to thoroughly enjoy this film. While there is much with which sports fans can connect, the drama is clear and carries overtones of the business world in general. One can become involved easily, and of course, one factor that dominates everything else is Pitt’s blockbuster performance. It doesn’t take special analytical powers to appreciate an award-caliber acting job when you see one. A Columbia Pictures release.


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