September 23, 2011


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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Michael Lewis’ book Moneyball was a marvelous read, but seemed like dim source material for a movie. Credit, then, is due to the creators of the film version–the various producers, screenwriters Steven Zailian and Aaron Sorkin, and director Bennett Miller–for finding a compelling narrative spine in a true-life story about the change in an industry’s way of thinking.


Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt on screen), General Manager of the Oakland A’s, had a seemingly insuperable problem: how to operate a baseball team that could compete with the Yankees of this world on roughly a quarter of their budget for team salaries? In solving that dilemma, he and the young economist he discovered (Jonah Hill, playing a character called Peter Brand but actually a fictionalized version of Paul Podesta), changed the way baseball teams are put together.

Beane and Podesta/Brand pioneered a statistics-laden method for measuring player worth that ignored time-honored criteria like body type in favor of the ability to get on base. (These theories had started before Beane, with statisticians like Bill James, but had never been put into practice.) To the disdain and disbelief of his scouts and coach, Beane built an “island of misfit toys” of a team, and the movie is the story of the first season they played.

The triumph of statistics in sports is an unlikely subject for an underdog story (the film is almost entirely about the front office–we just get glimpses of the players through the movie), but it works. Largely this is due to Pitt and Hill, who make a dynamite team. Pitt is both dogged and funny, and Hill underplays as he never has before, to excellent effect. (The two share a sequence together gaming the season’s trade deadline–straight from Lewis’ book–that’s thrillingly smart and hilarious.) The rest of the cast fades in comparison, although Philip Seymour Hoffman is of course tasty in a briefer role as doubting coach Art Howe.

With its wordy exposition and near-abstract disputes (not to mention Sorkin as screenwriter), the obvious point of comparison for Moneyball is last year’s The Social Network. Moneyball doesn’t quite measure up–Beane isn’t as fascinating a character as Network’s Mark Zuckerberg, and Miller, although grand with actors, doesn’t have the visual or pacing skill of David Fincher. Like the Oakland team it describes, Moneyball’s triumph is managing to get to the playoffs at all, whether or not it wins the title.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."