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Review: Moneyball

Baseball movies. Everybody loves them. I mean everybody. Even Summer Catch has its own fans. So take a well-read book by Michael Lewis of Blind Side fame, add the ageless Brad Pitt and the rest is easy. Thankfully, the adaptation by Bennett Miller isn't as by-the-numbers as that. There is no forced romantic subplot to mull over, no downtrodden veteran giving it one last go, no rookie on the ropes trying to get a grip in America's pastime.

For once we have a strictly baseball movie. Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) is the new manager of the Oakland A's. The A's are not the Yankees, hell, they aren't even the Cubs. After losing several star players to free agency Beane has a choice ahead of him, play the rooks and take a beating or sign some over-the-hill guys and kill time for the rest of the season. Fortunately, Beane has Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a numbers cruncher who may have just found the way to even the score with the big boy teams.

Players like Scott Hatteberg (Chris Pratt, who is becoming quite the actor) have no obvious worth to some General Managers, but Beane knows different. On base percentage, walks drawn, slugging, these are mostly just numbers for baseball purists, but for Beane and Brand these numbers could take their team to the next level. As Brand says, “Your goal shouldn't be to buy players. Your goal should be to buy wins. And in order to buy wins you need to buy runs.”

Brad Pitt is no stranger to playing the wholly committed main man. He is a mover and a shaker. He didn't come up under the establishment crowd and he won't put up with them when running his team. Pitt plays Beane with a panache that you have to have to run a multi-million dollar organization. Those scenes when he's throwing furniture after a not-so-polite meeting with his scouts are contrasted nicely when Beane retreats to the depths of the Oakland Coliseum during games.

Jonah Hill manages his transition to more adult films quite nicely with his role as Peter Brand. Not to say he isn't still the same funnyman from films like Superbad and Cyrus, but he is capable of playing the straight-man in a drama with ease.

Cinematographer Wally Pfister captures the exhilaration of the diamond wonderfully. Occasionally I caught myself wondering if I was watching game footage from the A's 2003 season. The expanses of an entire stadium filled with fans are collected along with solemn scenes with one man alone in his truck listening to another gut-wrenching defeat.

What makes Moneyball truly special is that this isn't just another baseball movie, it's a character study. The man who wants to revolutionize a game that wants no part of him.

***1/2 out of ****

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