Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 
Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable

REVIEW | "Moneyball" Leaves the Math On the Bench and Hits a Triple

Photo of Eric Kohn By Eric Kohn | Indiewire September 20, 2011 at 12:31PM

"Moneyball," the long-gestating adaptation of Michael Lewis' non-fiction tome about Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane's attempt to construct a winning team with mathematical trickery, demonstrates an awareness of the challenging material from the outset. How do you make equations into compelling drama? Answer: You ignore them and go on with the show. The movie begins with a quote from Mickey Mantle about the impossibility of fully understanding baseball from the inside out. "Moneyball" never attempts to explain it, swiftly navigating around the details of Beane's scheme. Instead, director Bennett Miller has produced a warm and generally agreeable character study about the pratfalls of athletic institutions and the willingness to think outside the box.
0
REVIEW | "Moneyball" Leaves the Math On the Bench and Hits a Triple
Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill in "Moneyball." Sony.

"Moneyball," the long-gestating adaptation of Michael Lewis' non-fiction tome about Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane's attempt to construct a winning team with mathematical trickery, demonstrates an awareness of the challenging material from the outset. How do you make equations into compelling drama? Answer: You ignore them and go on with the show. The movie begins with a quote from Mickey Mantle about the impossibility of fully understanding baseball from the inside out. "Moneyball" never attempts to explain it, swiftly navigating around the details of Beane's scheme. Instead, director Bennett Miller has produced a warm and generally agreeable character study about the pratfalls of athletic institutions and the willingness to think outside the box.

Played by Brad Pitt (also a producer of the project), Beane comes across as a sad-eyed dreamer facing impossible odds. In 2002, having lost star player Johnny Damon and countless others to richer teams, he struggles to come up with a plan that avoids compromise and certain failure. His team's paltry $38 million budget trembles in the Yankees' $120 million shadow. Eager to get his old time peers to help him find a breakthrough, he borders on utter despair when he finds upstart Yale economics grad Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), whose ability to study players' numerical data instead of superficial details opens the door for assembling a better team. "Baseball thinking is medieval," Brand tells Beane, which makes the veteran certain he has found his answer.

Scenes of actual gameplay are sparse, because "Moneyball" is primarily about the obsessive nature of baseball's inner circle of power players. It follows a fairly obvious arc based around Beane's obsession with competition. Miller (utilizing a screenplay that has passed through a few hands, most recently Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin) routinely flashes back to Beane's squashed potential as a major league player. It's a tried-and-true device for drawing obvious parallels with his contemporary need to find a winning solution, but sufficiently keeps the drama in flux.

Shocking his peers with decisions that threaten to doom an already-suffering team, Beane faces opposition from field manager Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who refuses to use the team in the unorthodox configuration Beane envisions for it. Howe is the closest thing that "Moneyball" has to a bad guy, and provides enough of an opposition to push Beane over the edge and see his gamble through to the bitter end.

The most remarkable thing about "Moneyball" is just how swiftly it moves along. Initially set to be directed by Steven Soderbergh, who envisioned the adaptation as a hybrid of fictional scenes and documentary interviews, it has since been boiled down to a fairly conventional affair. But Miller maintains a fluid pace and highlights extraordinary naturalistic moments (many of which involve backroom strategy sessions). He creates a fully believable universe not only dominated by baseball but defined by it. The script's only major flaw involves the exploration of Beane's troubled family life; occasional moments with his supportive 12-year-old daughter belong in a different, lesser movie.

Pitt, however, looks right at home as a nearly over-the-hill dreamer scavenging for the best success route. Hill, whose role might seem like a dubious casting decision based on his existing goofball image, actually works quite well in a noticeably muted (but still comically inspired) role. His deadpan expression is the ideal counterpoint to Pitt's bubbling enthusiasm for the moneyball game.

He's also a believable mathematical prodigy, which allows the movie to avoid cumbersome explanations. Taking a page from "A Beautiful Mind," the screenplay sidesteps extensively outlining the process in favor of an enthusiastic montage of equations and algorithms mostly left up to the viewer's imagination (unlike the book, which apparently delves into the process at great length). In short, "Moneyball" translates statistics into the formula for a crowdpleaser by simply glossing over them. Although focused on a reinvention of major league rules, as commercial entertainment, it's still the old ballgame.

criticWIRE grade: B+

HOW WILL IT PLAY? Brad Pitt and baseball are two major ingredients that should result in a winning formula for "Moneyball" at the box office, although its awards season potential is still unclear.

This article is related to: Reviews, In Theaters, Moneyball






Check out Indiewire on LockerDome on LockerDome



Awards Season Spotlight

Contender Conversations

Indiewire celebrates the best and brightest from Independent film, Hollywood, and foreign cinema.

More