"Moneyball", the new film about Billy Beane, former baseball player and current General Manager of the Oakland Athletics, who brought his team unexpected success by recruiting undervalued players, is lean and smartly written, and you don't need to be a baseball fan to enjoy it. I can't deny that I had a special level of appreciation, having seen it one day after the final game of the 2011 World Series. The history and romance of the game still flooded my consciousness. That aside, "Moneyball" is compulsively watchable, is surprisingly relevant to the non-baseball world, and is great fun. It is, so far, one of the best films I have seen this year.
The movie combines classic storytelling with a multi-layered character study. "Moneyball" has, at its center, a showcase portrayal of a well-known, behind-the-scenes sports figure and businessman. Many viewers may find, to their surprise, that they will identify with this character's struggles and triumphs. The film covers the period in which Beane, stymied with one of the lowest budgets in Major League Baseball, steals a young business analyst from an opposing team (Jonah Hill in a winning, awkwardly nerdy performance). Together they create computerized statistical formulas to find inexpensive players, whose numbers indicate that they would be able to get on base, with the proper coaching. They recruit these players, find their strengths, and bolster their confidence to get on base and score runs. Mentor and Analyst both struggle against a roomful of old recruiters and a resistant Manager (Phillip Seymour Hoffman in his annoying, bravura best), and begin to see results that win (almost) everyone over to their side.