Friday, September 23, 2011

Unorthodox Rise of an Underdog in 'Moneyball'

Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) and Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) create a formula for recruiting the best talent in "Moneyball." Photos by Melinda Sue Gordon/Columbia TriStar Marketing Group.

THINKING outside the box or defying conventional wisdom is at the heart of “Moneyball,” but it is really about the competitive nature of a determined man, one who just might have something to prove.

The film is based on the real-life story of Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), a former professional baseball player who did not live up to his superstar potential. He quit the talent side of the game and repurposed himself as a management type. (See video below).

Going into the 2002 season, General Manager Billy is tasked with reviving the lowly Oakland A’s, which once again has seen star players poached by elite clubs such as the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. It opens nationwide today. (Also opening are “Abduction,” “Dolphin Tale” and “Killer Elite.”)

In his quest to have a winning season Billy embraces some statistical theories that establishment baseball has dismissed as poppycock. He presses economist Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) into service to morph these theories into a concrete player recruitment blueprint that will bring the A’s into some glory. The result is a formula that instructs that the A’s should court very special types: “old” guys, oddballs, the injured and incessant troublemakers. A’s field manager Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman) ain't buyin' it and refuses to go along.

“The film questions the very idea of how to define success," asserts BP who also has a producer’s credit. "It places great value on this quiet, personal victory, the victory that’s not splashed across the headlines or necessarily results in trophies, but that, for Beane, became a kind of personal Everest.”

“Moneyball” is adapted from the 2003 book of the same name by Michael Lewis, a former Salomon Brothers bond trader. ML, who has emphasized that his book is not the most natural fit for film because of its emphasis on statistical analyses and theories, is pleased with the outcome.

“Whenever a book is adapted into a movie, there are two possibilities: either the filmmakers stick to the book, or they make up their own story … it was an extremely pleasant surprise to see that Bennett [Miller, the director] and the screenwriters did the impossible – not only did I love the movie, but I was stunned by how well it represents my book. It is honest and true to what happened with Billy and the A’s and what they achieved.”

Once everybody is on the same page in "Moneyball" the plan is set in motion. That season the A’s made it to the American League Division Series, which the club lost to the Minnesota Twins.

“Moneyball” has gotten mostly favorable notices, with some critics singling out BP and JH as the economist. There is even talk that BP's performance is worthy of an Oscar nomination.

Philip Seymour Hoffman as a baseball field manager who does not like the way the team is being managed in "Moneyball."

Interestingly enough, several "Moneyball" cast and creative members have Oscar on their resume. BP has a couple of nominations, while PSH won a best actor statuette for “Capote.” That film was directed by BM who earned a nomination for his efforts.

It fell to Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin to cloak ML’s technical jargon into sparkling dialogue. SZ was nominated for his “Schindler’s List” screenplay; AS won an Oscar for his screenplay for “The Social Network.”

Moneyball is rated PG-13 for some strong language.

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