There are plenty of familiar sports movie elements in "Moneyball," including a team of misfit players, the only two people who believed in them, and a large group of skeptics that underestimated the team's chances. Yet, "Moneyball" never feels like a by-the-numbers picture. The combination of Bennett Miller's inspired direction, a homerun screenplay penned by Steven Zaillian of "Schindler's List" and Aaron Sorkin of "The Social Network," and an Oscar-worthy leading performance are just a few of the things that help to distinguish "Moneyball" as the finest baseball-related movie in recent years.
Based on the novel by Michael Lewis, "Moneyball" focuses on Billy Beane, a once promising up-and-coming athlete who turned down a scholarship to Stanford to join the New York Mets. Unfortunately, Beane couldn't quite cut it in the big leagues and retired to become the general manager of the Oakland Athletics. After loosing three of his star players, Beane begins a search for new talent and a new strategy. He finds some unlikely help in an assistant general manager named Peter Brand, played by Jonah Hill, who looks at baseball from a statistical point of view. Together, Peter and Beane devise a system to assemble a cheap team that could lead the Athletics to victory.
Beane is easily among the most absorbing characters Pitt has ever played. The film portrays Beane as a man who will always stick by his decisions, even though he knows that they might blow up in his face. As confident as Beane might seem at times, he's also a person full of regret and seeking redemption. Anybody who has followed Beane's story knows that not everything works out the way he hopes. Beane's willingness to take risks and stay devoted to his decisions is both his strength and tragic flaw. But that only makes him a more intriguing protagonist.
The real surprise in the acting ensemble is Hill as Brand, who was inspired by the real-life assistant-general manager to Beane, Paul DePodesta. Hill is often associated with a young John Belushi given his work in comedies like "Superbad" and "Get Him to the Greek." Here he shies away from his usually outspoken characters with an engagingly subtle performance as a timid man afraid to speak his thoughts.
For a movie with baseball at its core, "Moneyball" pays little attention to the players and includes only one major big game sequence. Although the Oakland Athletics beat all the odds in their 2002 season, this really isn't their story. The movie belongs to Pitt and Hill as two men who set out to change the way people perceive baseball management with a dicey strategy. Like the best sports movies, "Moneyball" will prove both moving and fascinating to everyone in the audience, even those who know absolutely nothing about baseball.