“Moneyball” swings, misses

Brad Pitt shines as manager Billy Beane, but he can't carry the film on his own. Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures.

“Moneyball” is a decent film and it’s moderately entertaining, but it’s nothing exceptional.  Its basic premise, that “statistics triumph over all,” defeats the feel-good humanist message it attempts to convey.

“Moneyball” follows the failed major-leaguer-turned-general-manager of the Oakland Athletics Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) as he attempts to bring the team back from the loss of three key players to higher paying teams. He employs Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a nerdy Yale economics graduate, to rebuild the team based on a system of complex analysis that narrows players’ skills down to a single number by which they can be compared. Beane fights against the traditional approach to baseball and brings in underrated players that other scouts disregarded.

    “Moneyball” is definitely the story of an underdog, but director Bennett Miller and screenwriters Steven Zaillan (“Schindler’s List”) and Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network”) focus too much on Beane and totally minimize the players themselves. In doing this, they miss a major opportunity to pull on heartstrings. The team members’ struggle to overcome their designations as supposedly inferior players and win would have added to the whole underdog struggle and might have made a great sub-plot.

The focus on Beane at the expense of the other characters definitely detracts from the film, but Pitt’s performance helps to redeem the film’s emotion. Brad Pitt dominates the movie and mesmerizes as Beane. His boyish charisma charms the audience into actually caring about what is otherwise a rather dull story, and his interactions with his teen daughter (Kerris Dorsey) are the most genuinely touching aspect of the whole film.

    The film feels generally underdeveloped. “Moneyball” leaves me with too many questions. I wonder whether Brand has any kind of life outside of his numbers and what, if anything, Beane’s perpetual flashbacks to his days as a failing major-leaguer have to do with his drive to implement statistics instead of traditional scouting.

The ending is less touching than it should be when Beane turns down the largest offer in history to work for another team simply because he promised himself after turning down a full ride to Stanford for a position in the major league that he would never make a decision based on money again. Sure, money isn’t everything, but it seemed like one heck of an opportunity to me, and he never seemed to have much affection for any of the people at the Oakland A’s anyway. The film just leaves too much unexplained.

 “Moneyball” barely avoids striking out.  The message is just not as warm and fuzzy as one would expect from a film about an underdog team.