There was something oddly noncommittal about the first trailer for Moneyball: It couldn't hide the fact that it was at its core a sports film, but it seemed to reach out to any and all potential audiences, inviting them to find whatever they wanted within its many facets -- even if that was a two-hour eye candy session with Brad Pitt.
There was the classic underdog tale played out on the bright green field. There was Hollywood heartthrob Pitt. There was even - appearing for one of the last times in the squish-able doughboy form we all first learned to love, before he became the incredible shrinking man -- comedian Jonah Hill.
But Moneyball is not just a sports film, or a comedy, or a Pitt vehicle; instead, it's a genre-straddling tour de force that simultaneously reduces baseball to statistics, formulas, and dollar signs, while rediscovering its poetry.
Based on the true story of the 2002 restructuring of the Oakland Athletics team based on formulas that privileged players' ability to get on base, Moneyball follows General Manager Billy Beane (Pitt) as he lets it all ride on the calculations of young Peter Brand (Hill).
Together, Beane and Brand build a winning team on a shoestring budget, sending reverberations through the baseball world that effectively change the game for good.
In one of the funnier scenes, Beane brings the newly hired Brand to a meeting of the old guard -- the dinosaurs of scouting with their receding hairlines, hearing aides, and rankings of how hot potential recruits' girlfriends are (as a marker of confidence). The more Beane defers to Brand's particular brand of numerical wisdom, the more the aging scouts revolt. The dialogue here is tight and witty; co-writer Aaron Sorkin, fresh off his Oscar win for The Social Network, weaves his Faustian-bargain genius all through the film.
As Brand, Jonah Hill is a delightful surprise. He is at once awkward and competent, his tiny mouth pursed in a rosy bow as he watches hours of player footage.
Another standout is Chris Pratt, whom you'll recognize as the flawed but loveable Andy Dwyer on "Parks and Recreation." As the Cinderella of the film -- injured catcher Scott Hatteberg, rescued by Beane to be a first baseman for the A's -- Pratt may not have many lines, but he injects a sweetness and vulnerability that the film, which admittedly sometimes sacrifices character development, needs.
Moneyball's a film about a ragtag group of very different players - the one with the funny pitch, the one with the bum elbow, the one who's too old - thrown together to make one winning team.
It only makes sense, then, that it pulls together disparate elements of many genres: the classic movie-star Pitt, the Judd Apatow-grown Hill, the dialogue of Sorkin, the surly realness of Oscar-winner Philip Seymour Hoffman, and the hard-work montages and inspiring triumphs of the sports film.
But the real undervalued element that director Bennett Miller (Capote) brings to the film is simple: silence. Where sports films often drown their visuals and dialogue with bombastic scores or pop music hits, Moneyball allows silence to speak for itself. Beane may define that silence as "what losing sounds like" when he busts the stereo in the locker-room after a tough loss, but for the film as a whole, and for audiences, it's the sound of a home-run -- that stirring calm, the shock, the hope, just before the applause.
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