Baseball and the cinema have had a long, arduous relationship with each other. Perhaps it’s because they’re both two of the most classic and American pastimes; ardent representations of the development of popular culture throughout our nation’s—and the world, really—social history and development. As such, films about baseball have, over time, transcended through the realms of the “sports film” genre, and really has become its own genre. ‘Baseball cinema’, if you will.
In the canon of ‘Baseball cinema’, we’ve had the good (Field of Dreams, The Natural, The Sandlot), the bad (The Babe, Mr. 3000, Fever Pitch), and the downright idiotic (The Benchwarmers, Ed, every Major League sequel). Yet, despite the overall quality (or lack thereof) of baseball films, they all seem to share a certain similar aesthetic; an awe-inspiring appreciation and handling of the sport as a timeless American pastime. Moneyball, the latest addition to the long-line of ‘Baseball cinema’, acknowledges this self-reflexive quality and manages to take the genre in places it has never gone before.
The film, based off the book of the same name by Michael Lewis, tells the real life story of Billy Beane, General Manager of the Oakland Athletics.
The film tells the story of how Beane changed the nature of professional baseball by scouting his players through a strictly statistical analytic system called sabermetrics.
Though imploring many of the sports-genre clichés (a story of underdogs, character redemption and self-realization, montages), Moneyball can’t really be defined as a sports film all that easily.
Sure, it is about baseball, ostensibly, but really it’s about statistics. Math. That’s right, a sports film about math. So essentially, it’s a sports film for nerds.
But that’s just one classification of Moneyball. The story is about baseball and the math behind it, but relies heavily on its intense characterization and melodramatic sensibility to really pull us in and makes us care about these things.
As usual, Pitt pulls off a great performance as Beane, the former baseball prodigy who, after being recruited right out of high school, couldn’t cut it in the major leagues and has been living with that self-disappointment ever since.
More surprisingly is Jonah Hill, who seriously establishes himself as a dramatic actor to take seriously, despite being consistently type-casted as the crude, foul-mouthed character actor established in Superbad.
Ultimately, Moneyball simultaneously adheres and transcends the well-established genre tricks of sports dramas.
It’s a finely acted, surprisingly melancholy, wholly engaging story that is superbly fine-tuned under the direction of Bennett Miller (Capote). As worthy induction into the canon of ‘Baseball cinema’, I’m interested to see how the film holds up years from now, but for the time being, I won’t be surprised to hear Moneyball discussed heavily when award season rolls around.
Overall grade: B+
Moneyball opens today in theaters everywhere, click here for theaters and showtimes.