September always sees me with my arms crossed, daring the year to surprise me. Generally around this time, I feel like very little will come out of nowhere to blindside me, but I hadn't seen the likes of Moneyball yet. It takes the prize as Grae's Biggest Cinematic Surprise of the Year. Although it's comprised mostly of guys sitting around in rooms talking numbers and spitting chew into Dixie cups, I hung onto every word. Completely unlike an actual baseball game, I never got antsy or needed to get a pretzel just for a change of scenery.
An adaptation of Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, by Michael Lewis, the film tells the story of Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland Athletics. He was seeing his team slide farther and farther into obscurity at the turn of the century. They didn't have the funding or prestige to compete with rich, popular machines like the Yankees. When the A's lost three of their major players as free agents, he knew they needed to think outside the box…like, in another solar system. He took a chance on an economics major from Yale, Peter Brand (played by Jonah Hill), who brought mathematics into the process of picking players. Although their journey was rocky and filled with fire and brimstone from fans and management alike, they weren't entirely wrong. And as a reward for taking such a big risk, Beane gets immortalized in the form of Brad Pitt. Not bad for a revolutionary.
The great thing about this movie is that it works even if you don't follow or care about baseball. Since it does include some interludes of the actual game, however, it's helpful to err on the side of being a sports fan. The script was born from two screenwriting dynamos: Oscar winner Aaron Sorkin, who won for The Social Network, and Steven Zaillan, who wrote All The King's Men and Schindler's List, just to list a few of their impressive credits. They raise the bar for themselves with this movie, because there is nothing going on here except their dialogue, and the movie remains fantastic. Although it's not emotionally engaging in a typical way and no one gives legendary pep talks (like in Miracle), it still conveys the peaks and valleys of someone who changed an entire century-old institution. I didn't stand up and cheer at the end, nor did I shed a tear--but I still felt like I had seen something important. If anything, I would say the movie feels just a touch long, because everyone that had the power to axe moments in the script is in love with the two writers, and deservedly so.
The actors seem to relish the juicy dialogue, too, especially Brad Pitt. He has always been an interesting actor. It seems to me, as he ages, he has settled into this cozy, effortless style of acting that makes me completely forget I am watching a movie. I don't think it's controversial to say that he is one of the finest actors of the modern day, because he makes it look so easy, like all the choices he makes are the only sensible ones (even in something as crazy as Snatch or Twelve Monkeys). He is well-cast in this movie as a restless loner with the weight of the world on his shoulders.
Usually movie "realism" is still sensationalized, but watching Moneyball is like sitting behind a two-way mirror during a notable period in history. Moments like listening to your daughter sing a song, tipping over a Gatorade cooler, or hawking tobacco into a paper cup are no more or less important than the moment that came before or after. It turns out that the movie wins an unfair game of its own.