**1/2 (out of four)
“Moneyball” is the triumphant true story of how a professional baseball team made it back into the playoffs. The year after making them the last time. And didn’t win the World Series. In terms of distance traveled from heartache to glory, this cinematic underdog wouldn’t cross state lines.
Of course, it was a bummer for the cash-strapped Oakland A’s when they lost stars like Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon to the super-rich Yankees and Red Sox, respectively, after the A’s’ 2001 postseason. It’s not as if the team was then a disaster; general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) and manager Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman) still had assets like eventual MVP Miguel Tejada and ace pitchers Barry Zito, Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson.
“Moneyball,” adapted from Michael Lewis’ hit book, doesn’t care about those players, barely mentioning them at all. Rather, the script from Oscar winners Steven Zaillian (“Schindler's List”) and Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network”) suggests that the 2002 A’s won more than 100 games as a result of Beane using unconventional statistical analysis to acquire undervalued players such as Scott Hatteberg (Chris Pratt), David Justice (Stephen Bishop) and Chad Bradford (Casey Bond). Does director Bennett Miller (“Capote”) prove how much those guys contributed to the team? No. All we see is Beane, a highly recruited baseball prospect whose big-league career didn’t pan out, adopting his new assistant Peter Brand’s (Jonah Hill) on base percentage-focused scouting approach and then, ultimately, the results of what the team accomplished.
If you’re not paying attention, you might forget what your college professors taught you about the difference between correlation and causation.
It’s worth noting that front-office bucks don’t necessarily guarantee on-field glory. If they did, the Cubs, one of the league’s wealthiest teams, might not currently be in a fierce battle for fourth in the division. Yet there remains a pretty entertaining story in “Moneyball” about Beane, the movie’s only fully realized character, who knows first-hand that scouts don’t always get it right. He deserves credit for fielding a really good team with such low funds. Pitt is terrific and effortlessly crafty as his Beane wheels and deals between teams. He shows vulnerability, too, as he longs to spend more time with his 12-year-old daughter (Kerris Dorsey) in scenes that are sweet but routine.
Sorkin previously turned “The Social Network” into a glorious true story about greed and loyalty. But “Moneyball,” which is loaded with clunky “what it all means” moments, isn’t a similarly affecting look at people’s unexpected value. And it sure doesn’t recognize the imperfection of Beane and Brand’s strategy.
In 2004, Paul DePodesta (the real Peter Brand) was hired as the GM of the L.A. Dodgers, where he maintained the statistics-driven approach employed with the A’s. In the wake of what ESPN called “strange trades” and “suspect signings,” he was fired the following year, after the Dodgers had their worst season in more than a decade.
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