I’ve never been a huge fan of baseball. I grew up in the era of free agency and the idea that pouring money on the field was the way to win, and that wasn’t particularly interesting to me. And from that perspective, I found the Brad Pitt-produced film Moneyball, adapted from Michael Lewis’ best-selling book, a welcome change from the more typical sentimental Hollywood treatment of the game.
Pitt plays Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane. Tired of seeing the star players on his team lured away by ballclubs with bigger budgets, and hamstrung by the A’s own severely limited resources, Beane connects with an Ivy League economics expert with an eye for baseball stats, Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), and together they try to build a team to challenge not just the American League, but big-business baseball as a whole.
“I’m amazed they let me do this movie,” Pitt told Sports Illustrated of the project, which took eight years to bring to the big screen. “[Making a movie] with math and science and sabermetrics at its forefront … was a huge question for us. But somehow it didn’t feel like a risk. I was just so taken with the book. It had these universal themes.”
Many of the concepts in Moneyball — like frugality, ruthlessness and rethinking the playbook — resonate even more today than they did when Beane started his experiment based on the writings of Bill James, who first advocated the sabermetric approach. And since the 2002 season in which this film is set, the practice of playing “moneyball” has become far more pervasive and controversial. But at the heart of this particular telling of this story, it’s very much about one man’s determination to succeed at something in life when the odds have been against him, even if he doesn’t end up winning — or even reaching — the World Series. And it’s that small, subtle success story that appealed to Pitt — a throwback to the movies he remembers from the ’70s.
“In scripts today,” he explains, “someone has a big epiphany, learns a lesson, then comes out the other side different. In these older films I’m talking about, the beast at the end of the movie was the same beast in the beginning of the movie. What changed was the world around them, by just a couple of degrees. Nothing monumental. I think that’s true about us. We fine-tune ourselves, but big change is not real.”
“Moneyball” is available starting Jan. 10 on Video On Demand. Check your cable system for availability.
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