Andy Bockelman: ‘Moneyball’ hits a grand slam |

Andy Bockelman: ‘Moneyball’ hits a grand slam

Andy Bockelman is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society, and his movie reviews appear in Explore Steamboat and the Craig Daily Press.

Throwing around the old horsehide seems simple enough when you watch the pros do it on TV. But, for every pitch that hits the mitt, numbers go up and down for both teams, and the process goes on and on until the bottom of the ninth.

Hardly anybody would consider calculating the figures afterward to be entertaining, but "Moneyball" is all about making something big out of many miniscule integers.

The 2001 Major League Baseball postseason does not end well for the Oakland Athletics, but the worst is yet to come.

With star players like Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon jumping ship to join the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, Athletics general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) must figure out how to fill some big holes in his roster.

To make things more complicated, he must do so within the constraints of the A's meager budget.

Trade negotiations with other teams don't pan out well in way of players, but his search does yield someone worthwhile — Cleveland Indians analyst Peter Brand (Jonah Hill).

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Brand's system of assessing players is different from anything Billy's scouts have ever tried. Rather than relying on the appearance and method of prospective players, the technique involves a purely statistical basis and takes hitters and fielders who would otherwise be overlooked into consideration.

Gathering an assortment of men willing to play for smaller salaries, the GM and his new assistant are ready to take on a new season. But, neither the A's organization nor the Oakland fans are prepared to change up how things have been done in the sport for more than 100 years.

Pitt gives a finely nuanced performance as a man who's been both blessed and cursed by America's Pastime. A lifelong love for baseball keeps Billy going even when things look bleakest and he receives no support from colleagues who see him as being too impulsive and crowds of spectators who question his motivations but still keep coming to games out of morbid curiosity.

Even he doesn't have that much confidence in himself, refusing to watch any games for fear of jinxing his team.

Hill, who looks like he's never once stepped onto the diamond, does well as slightly nerdy Brand, based on Paul DePodesta, nervously taking on the responsibilities of advising his new boss to stay true to the plan despite everyone else telling Billy differently.

Philip Seymour Hoffman looks like Buster Keaton in a ball cap as humorless team manager Art Howe, waging a war of wills over who sets the lineup, only relying on Billy's game strategy when all else fails.

Among the new men to hop on the bandwagon a little more willingly are Chris Pratt, as catcher-turned-first baseman Scott Hatteberg; Casey Bond, as unconventional sidearm pitcher Chad Bradford; and Stephen Bishop, as aging outfielder and slugger David Justice, who is looking for some glory leading up to his retirement after getting tossed around by team after team.

High hopes, crushed dreams and the frustration of being underestimated are prevalent in director Bennett Miller's first film since 2005's "Capote," centered on a character who seems to go through all three at the same time.

Billy Beane's own failures as a professional baseball player — after being told by scouts he was flawless — show that he is someone who does not take trades and cuts lightly but still does what he has to do all while trying to look like a hero in front of his daughter (Kerris Dorsey).

Stan Chervin's story, coupled with a screenplay by Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian, is less about the work done in the dugout and on the field as opposed to the front office. Adapted from "Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game" by nonfiction writer Michael Lewis — who also authored "The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game" — the transition from page to screen actually works very well considering the dryness of the subject matter.

The math involved in Brand's sabermetric schematic will almost certainly go over the heads of the audience, but the idea that skilled, second tier players deserve to be acknowledged as much as the hotshots is one that everyone can appreciate.

What "The Social Network" was to the Internet, "Moneyball" is to new millennium sports management.

This isn't the story of a ragtag crew like "The Bad News Bears," whose horrendous play eventually translates to a winning season, rather an array of talented but scattered walking puzzle pieces who need to be put in the correct order for things to function properly.

And, as long as they don't screw things up by bunting, it should go according to plan. Hey, numbers don't lie.

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3 out of 4 stars

133 minutes

Starring: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Chris Pratt.