What if you made a scrappy underdog sports film that wasn’t funny? In some ways that’s what Moneyball is, it’s the story of Oakland A’s GM Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) and how he works with Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) to build a team to win using statistics over star players. Bennett Miller’s film is engaging enough even for those who don’t follow the game (and those that do may dismiss what they accomplished – as many have) but as a narrative it’s the rare serious attempt to tell an underdog sports story without focusing on jokes or the players. Our review of Moneyball on Blu-ray follows after the jump.
The film starts in 2002, with the A’s having a great season, only to be defeated by the Yankees in the playoffs. From there they lose three of their star players, and the team doesn’t have the money to replace them. GM Billy Beane (Pitt) was scouted as a high schooler, and went to the major leagues where he flamed out quickly, and has spent his career trying to not make the same mistakes himself. But he doesn’t know how to build a team with the scraps he has.
And when he’s looking to trade or buy some players he is thwarted by decisions supposedly made by Peter Brand (Hill), a young economist who he hires immediately to be his assistant. They set about using his sabermetrics to get the best team they can afford and in doing so alienate their scouts and head coach Art Howe (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), who completely ignores their strategies. So much so that Billy has to start trading teammates to get them to play his way. Of course there wouldn’t be a movie if the plan didn’t work somewhat.
Without getting into the politics of sabermetrics, which many dismiss as bull, Miller’s Moneyball has a formula story that manages to avoid doing anything all that formulaic. There are only a couple moments that feel like they could belong in Major League, and most of those happen with the players. But the film is never that much about the team, which means co-star Chris Pratt has a moment or two as Scott Hatterberg – who’s thrust into the position of first baseman – but the team is kept mostly at bay.
But then that raises the question: did they change the game, and did they change it for the better? Where the film gets most of its heat is from the conflict of an older, less scientific approach to how the game is played versus the card counting that Beane advocates. And as the film suggests it can only work once as a stunt, because once the cat is out of the bag, anyone can use the same theories.
Watching the film again at home it may play stronger there. All sports movies tend to be about the same things (underdogs trying to win big) and this is no different, but the pleasure of these films is often that they’re rewatchable. If the film suffers from anything (and it’s well done for what it is, with a screenplay by Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zallian), it’s that it doesn’t get to anything grander, and tries to sandwich in Beane’s relationship with his daughter (Kerris Dorsey) and ex-wife (Robin Wright) to give the film a little more heart. It has to settle for being a tale well told, with great performances by Pitt and Hill.
And the duo are great on screen together, with Pitt playing the knowing but cornered Beane as someone who worked in the system long enough to know what he’s up against, and Hill as the person who is faced with seeing his plan implemented as a reality. And theory versus practice is always scary. They’re the show, and they hold the screen.
Sony’s Blu-ray presents the film in widescreen (1.78:1) and in 5.1 DTS-HD master audio. The Blu-ray edition is also available as a Blu-ray only set or as a combo pack that offers a DVD and digital download copy. The transfer is fine, and the film was shot by Wally Pfister (best known as Christopher Nolan’s DP). Extras include a gag reel (3 min.) with Pitt losing it in front of Hill, and three deleted scenes (12 min.) The rest of the extras are featurettes, which are “Billy Beane: Re-Inventing the Game” (16 min.) which gives background on how the season and Beane changed the game, and it’s followed by “Moneyball: Playing the Game” (19 min.) which showcases the effort that went into getting the costumes and gameplay right. “Adapting Moneyball” (16 min.) gives the writers their due, and the book the film is based on, but eludes talking about the film’s troubled ride to the big screen in which Steven Soderbergh was at the helm before Miller took over. “Drafting the Team” (21 min.) is the most standard featurette, and talks to and about the cast. There’s also a MLB 12 The Show Preview Trailer and bonus trailers.