It’s hard to resist. No baseball puns. No. No. No. America’s used-to-be-favorite pastime is packed with terminology begging for word play.
Moneyball, however, deserves something more serious.
Not that it’s a serious movie. No way. Like the game, in spots the film is light and fast and funny. Then just as suddenly, akin to a poky pitcher’s duel, Moneyball slows down, then gets serious and focused.
Slow — unlike what sometimes happens in the real game — is not tedious.
Oh. By now some of you know, but many of you may not, Moneyball is based on a true story. The key word — as with most biopics — is based. Jonah Hill’s character — while not completely fictional — isn’t the name of the real guy.
The name change is some sort of legal thing. An article I found even said the real person didn’t like that the quite rotund Hill was going to play him and asked that his name be removed.
True? Maybe. Is the movie accurate? Maybe. None of that matters anyway. True or not, you will be entertained.
Moneyball follows the Oakland Athletics in 2002 when they set a major-league record for the most consecutive wins in a season.
The hook is how the team accomplished the feat.
Brad Pitt is Billy Beane, the A's general manager. With a low, low payroll when it comes to signing baseball talent, his team is outgunned by bigger markets. Whenever they do get a genuine superstar and their contract expires, Beane’s bean counters won’t let him compete.
With no money to spend, the superstar is snapped up by the New York Yankees or the Boston Red Sox or another team with deeper pockets.
To level the proverbial playing field, Billy bags the advise of experienced baseball scouts and chooses players that a computer and a computer whiz say are the best fit. Old players. Those ignored or unwanted by other team. Whatever works. It doesn’t matter as long as they come cheaply.
Baseball is about a certain number of hits, a needed number of runs. The computer lays that out in bytes and take a big bite out of the value of knowledgeable baseball minds. They include Beane’s reluctant manager Art Howe, done with grumpy finesse by Philip Seymour Hoffman, and his team of scouts.
It also sets up the story’s fascinating conflict.
Moneyball has almost zero negatives and the positives stack up starting with a snappy screenplay by master writers Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List) and Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network). The screenplay’s only flaw is the few awkward flashbacks involving Beane’s frustrating professional baseball playing career.
In spite of a great supporting cast, Pitt owns this movie. Hoffman’s crusty old baseball manager is pitch-perfect, and a wide-eyed, insecure Hill continues to be one of today’s most likable of young actors.
Pitt — who has always been a great actor — rips through the dialogue in one of the easiest, funniest and most natural performances of the year. He’s electrifying and — if you’ll allow one last bit of wordplay — Pitt and this movie knock it out of the park.
Mr. Movie rating: 4 1/2 stars
Rated PG-13 for mature themes. It opens Friday at the Carmike 12, the Fairchild Cinemas 12 and at the Grand Cinemas Walla Walla.
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.
2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.