Moneyball first surprised me when I heard that it was nominated for Best Picture at the 2012 Oscars. After a quick first glimpse at its trailer and TV spots I was under the impression it would be more a situation, feel-good “dramedy”. Maybe going in with this naive frame of mind was beneficial, as the film I actually saw was a touching story of persistence, hope and self-worth. Yes it has its light moments of relief, but it’s not an underdog story akin to The Fighter or Remember The Titans. In fact, at its core it’s not even about the players or the game itself. It’s about overcoming the odds and working to make it mean something rather than the annual salary.
Brad Pitt plays the Oakland A’s player-turned-general manager, Billy Beane. Based on the true story of the book of the same title, he’s up against top-tier baseball teams that have around $110m at their disposal on players, Beane has just shy of $40m to play with. After being denied at budget increase and an unsuccessful player loan meeting with the Cleveland Indians, Beane meets Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) and discovers a different and mathematical way of selecting a winning team. They struggle with the resistance from the “old school” in rebuilding the Oakland A’s team on the field, and not necessarily by always keeping their “best” players.
The film has an excellent cast supporting Pitt and Hill; Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright and a welcome uncredited cameo from Spike Jonze. The fellow cast members also are fantastic in bringing the baseball industry to life on screen. The film closes with the analogy of a baseball player who almost always never makes it round first base. Then during one game he hits the ball, sprints and desperately dives onto first base to claim it, unaware that he has actually hit a home run. Hill makes a metaphor of this regarding what Billy Beane has done at the Oakland A’s.
The closing shots of Beane driving and listening to the CD recorded by his young daughter make you feel that even though the outcome wasn’t exactly as hoped, it was all worth it. Don’t get misled thinking that this is a sports movie. Moneyball is a surprising emotionally touching film about fighting the comfortability of the status quo, and meaningfully making your mark on something. It’s now clear why this was a 2012 Oscar contender.