Money Ball is deservingly going to draw comparisons to The Social Network primarily because both are true stories about people who found success doing the seemingly impossible by going about their business in an unlikely and unusual way.  The other comparison will come from the fact that both had academy award level performances.

Pitt and Hill in Money Ball

Money Ball is the true story of Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), the General Manager for the Oakland A’s in the early 90’s.  Fresh off of a loss to the Yankees in the one-game playoff to go to the ALCS, it is Beane’s undesirable task to put together a team on a fraction of the budget of rival teams and still remain in contention.

Pitt plays the role of Beane well.  You actually believe him as an ex-jock who found his way into the clubhouse.   Also the script is set up well to show the motivation of Beane’s character having been a first-round draft pick who washes out of the majors.   This sets up the premise for the movie quite well.

Enter Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a nerdy member of the Cleveland Indians’ office staff.  When Beane notices the Indians’ GM listening to him Beane wants to know what he knows. Eventually hiring Brand, it is revealed that this Yale grad with a degree in Economics has redefined how scout baseball players.

The new formula is instead of looking at subjective variables like arm strength, swing, posture etc… Brand looks exclusively at on base percentage.   For the money, the team puts together the best on-base percentage players they can afford on their shoestring budget.

The story primarily revolves around Brad Pitt and Jonna Hill’s characters.  All other characters are typically flat and serve to set up the lead actors.   The script integrates the story involving the new thinking in baseball managing with flashbacks of Beane’s less-than stellar baseball career.  This makes the viewer understand why this particular GM was willing to think so far outside the box.

Money Ball is based on a book of the same name (that my dad, the economist, summarized for me because I didn’t read it) .  I cannot speak to how true it is to the book.  But the whole story is believable.   The wide use of old footage from baseball games really makes you feel like you are watching tv in the early 90’s again.  All the baseball footage is 4×3 aspect ratio and seen as if the camera was pointed at a CRT TV playing the game.   The footage seems to have come from before the proliferation of HDTV.

We also get a sub-plot of Beane having to deal with his ex-wife and daughter.  This serves to give his character more depth than anyone else.  It also makes Beane more likable during the hardships of the film.

Finally, the climax does everything a baseball movie should.  Just like an extra-innings game ending in a walk off home run, this movie makes you feel like the game is on the line as the A’s go for the longest winning streak in baseball.

Money Ball is for baseball fans what The Social Network was for computer geeks. Pitt’s performance is outstanding and it is very interesting to see Jonah Hill be less slapstick and be the more understated comic relief.

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