“Moneyball,” a sharp, funny, heartwarming, and surprisingly nail-biting movie about one man’s relationship to baseball, has plenty of moments that put a tear in your eye and a cheer in your heart.
Since it’s based on an only slightly neatened-up and simplified version of the actual 2003 season as experienced by general manager Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s, however, it’s also honest about the fact that happily-ever-after sometimes happens only inside your own head.
For audiences who are prone to get hives when faced with either too much economic theory or baseball stats, the movie essentially follows Beane’s efforts to find players his last-place team could afford that had the right unappreciated talents and fit them together into a winning team.
This goes against the entire current structure of how players are found, which to my ignorant ear mostly seemed to be how pretty their swing was and how good they looked in a uniform (there’s a fair amount of explanation in the movie, but unless you’re a pretty big fan of baseball, math, and economics, it’s vitally important to understanding everything that’s going on).
In short, pretty much everyone alive tries to stop Beane from following through on his plan, which gives the movie a second underdog story to run behind the scenes while the A’s continue to lose game after game on the field.
Brad Pitt, who de-shines surprisingly well to play the dynamic but scrappily desperate Beane, gives the character the confidence of a man who’s used to making impossible jumps because he’s never had any solid ground to stand on. In a way, he’s as lost as the rest of the misfits he gathers together to make his team — slightly confusing flashbacks sketch in his own non-start in the major leagues, and it adds a poignancy to even the character’s brashest moments.
Jonah Hill is Robert Brand, an extremely young man with a crazy idea and the hesitation of a man who’s used to not being listened to. Hill is surprisingly well suited to what is essentially a serious role, serving as a wellspring of quiet, thoughtful steadiness that serves as a necessary counterweight to Beane’s desperate momentum and keeps the entire movie grounded.
Together, the two men shine a spotlight on the intelligent, spare, dryly funny script by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin (the former of whom worked on “Schindler’s List,” and the latter on “The Social Network.”)
The laughs are subtle but there, and plenty of moments of genuinely nail-biting tension even if you know the overall shape of the season (given the pressure Beane’s facing, even a simple conversation can be more dangerous to the team’s hopes than anything happening out on the field).
The players themselves are little more than sketches, but the expressions of the actors who play them (Chris Pratt and Stephen Bishop in particular) are enough to tell the entire story of desperation, defeat, confusion, and sheer gratitude of players who’ve spent most of their careers ignored and shunted only to find themselves in the middle of a sudden and not-always-kind spotlight.
For these men, simply given a chance is more of a happy ending than they’d dared let themselves hope for, and they’re the ones who are given the film’s most touching moments.
In the end, it’s those moments that the movie asks us to accept in the place of fame, glory, and a triumphant soundtrack. Because in real life, you’ve got to take your wins where you can find them.