Pitt gives a winning performance as Billy Beane, the Oakland Athletics' general manager who -- with help from a numbers cruncher played by Jonah Hill -- used statistical analysis in an attempt to match small-market achievement and big-market results.
There's daring here, too. Pitt, who at 47 still has lots of boyish charm, has no love interest in the movie, although Beane is shown to have a tender relationship with his daughter from a failed marriage. Beane's a loner who wants to win, to prove that baseball's imperial forces (notably the Yankees and Red Sox) can be defeated by guys with brain power and the courage to follow a system. Even Oakland's scouts -- grizzled veterans of many baseball wars -- think Beane has strayed too far outside the lines.
Moneyball marks Pitt's second strong performance of the year, following on the heels of an impressive turn as a tough-minded father in Terrence Malick's Tree of Life. This time, Bennett Miller (Capote) directs Pitt in a performance that highlights Beane's competitive desire, his pragmatism and his willingness to kick aside conventional thinking.
Beane's also haunted by his own past as a player whose potential seriously was misjudged by the scouts who recruited him for the Majors. Even by his own standards, Beane's stat-heavy approach doesn't quite work, but Beane's inability to win the big prize -- a World Series -- gives the movie added poignancy.
The sideline action -- views of the A's less-than-commodious clubhouse, for example -- adds color, although the script by Steve Zallian and Aaron Sorkin (from the best-selling book by Michael Lewis) tends to overstay its welcome, and Miller does not pitch the perfect big-screen game.
Tensions between Beane and A's manager Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman in a smallish role) could have received more attention, and Hill's character -- based on former Beane assistant Paul DePodesta -- makes for a pleasing, if obvious, odd-fellow pairing with Pitt. Hill's Brand is the kind of nerd who's not supposed to get a second look from guys with jock mentalities.
Still, in drawing the contrast between the romance of baseball and the hard-minded approach of the statistician, Moneyball proves an enjoyable and mostly unconventional look at the world of big-time sport.
Perhaps more than any other sport, baseball lends itself to consideration of thought-provoking analysis: What if there are no intangibles when it comes to judging talent? What if only numbers matter? What if the work of two decent players can contribute as much to winning as one great player?
Moneyball won't topple the mythic, romanticized view of baseball that has dominated so much of American storytelling, but it asks us to confront our own romanticism about the sport, which (for those of us in the aging part of the population) is tantamount to confronting any residual romanticism about our long-faded youth.