Moments after the Oakland Athletics fell to the New York Yankees in the 2001 MLB Playoffs, the team was left in a state of turmoil. On the verge of losing their three biggest players, GM Billy Beane knew that they were doing something wrong. The same old method was turning up just short. After a meeting with the Cleveland Indians staff ended in defeat, he met Peter Brand, a young Yale graduate of economics who processed his player management through a series of statistics. Impressed with the young mind, Billy brings Peter to Oakland and the two men devise a new method to replace their lost talent. Using the method of averages and on base percentage, they choose to invest in the aging David Justice, the broken Scott Hatteberg, the oddball Chad Bradford and the wild Jeremy Giambi. With a manager who does not want to play by the plan and an organization unwilling to embrace their new methods, Billy and Peter are on an island and have to figure out how to push their goals forward and bring the team back from the bottom of the division.
Starring: Brad Pitt (Billy Beane), Jonah Hill (Peter Brand), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Art Howe), Robin Wright (Sharon), Chris Pratt (Scott Hatteberg), Stephen Bishop (David Justice), Reed Diamond (Mark Shapiro), Tammy Blanchard (Elizabeth Hatteberg), Brent Jennings (Ron Washington), Jack McGee (John Poloni)
Bringing this work by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin to life are the talents of Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill. For Pitt, he plays a man who has had a rough go in the past and does not fully trust himself, even though he is willing to take a number of risks. On the outside, he exudes great confidence, though he may also show he anger when things start to turn south. Privately, Pitt gives this character a little more depth in his struggles to manage his emotions and beat his apprehensions based on superstition and past failure. Hill was a great choice to support this story. Starting out as a quiet, nervous, young man, he is given the opportunity to grow and shows the gradual change in his confidence. Though not playing as strong a role, Philip Seymour Hoffman plays the manager Art Howe, struggling with his perceived lack of support from the organization and stubborn perspective on how the game is meant to be played. Chris Pratt serves as the young Scott Hatteberg, a man whose medical limitations severely cut his success as a player and who learns that the expectation to reinvent himself may be the best decision he ever made. Stephen Bishop gives a believable representation of an aging David Justice and exhibits the conflict of a man who wants to be seen as an all-star but lacks the same playmaking ability that once dominating his career.
Bennett Miller puts together quite a story to highlight one of baseball’s most impressive accomplishments and game-changers. The Oakland Athletics had always been seen as a small market team (and continue to remain as such). For Billy and Peter to shuffle up the plan so significantly seemed like they were spitting in the face of baseball tradition. Clearly, the scouts wanted nothing to do with the new methods, much less the manager Art Howe. While Peter certainly provided the new method, Billy was not without his skills manipulating scouts and other GMs to make the trades he needed. The players were not fully on board with the new management style either, but they were less resistant and more simply followed the conflicting wills of Billy and Art. Opinions started to change when the new style started to pay off, leading to what could only be seen as one of the greatest regular season accomplishments in baseball history.
While the film highlights the joint accomplishments of Billy and Peter in their effort to change the game, it actually tries to highlight their struggles behind the scenes. Peter’s transformation as an educated but shy analyst may not be significant, but he was managing being a young man in an old man’s world. Billy was trying to manage a similar problem, as he was not being taken seriously as the GM. Where the film does a great job with managing the progression of the season, it is a little weaker with the backstory for Billy Beane. There are periodic cutscenes that show small portions of the Billy’s progression from high school star to young rookie to washed up veteran, all to highlight that the personal reasons scouts choose to pursue players do not always translate into actual success. Talent does not predict confidence or performance when the pressure changes.
This film is certainly worthy of its attention going into the award season, with a great story, message and performances by Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill.
Dan’s Rating: 4.0/5