Breaking the Rules of the Game

Sports flicks tend to fall into two (somewhat loosely defined) categories: emotionally charged heavy-hitters that come with moral and family baggage in-tow (“The Fighter,” “The Blindside”) or sappy, gutless films about a horse (“Seabiscuit,” “Black Beauty,” “Sex and the City 2”).“Moneyball” is an entirely differ-ent ball game.

In a narrative where ballers are benched and the managers are up to bat, the biopic explores the story of the unsung antihero of America’s favorite pastime, Billy Beane (Pitt), the thankless general manager of the Oakland A’s.

After being hamstringed by the smallest salary constraint in baseball (and losing a siz-able chunk of the team’s top-notch players as a result), Beane teams up with Yale graduate Peter Brand (Hill) to revolutionize the way the A’s acquires players, using America’s least favorite pastime — math (or as it is known in the biz, “Sabermetrics” — where players are chosen based on who gets on base most).

The result is a mismatched collection of seemingly delinquent players: league under-dogs who surprisingly (or predictably, from Beane and Brand’s view) begin to impress.In terms of popular appeal, “Moneyball” is akin to “The Social Network” (screenwriter Aaron Sorkin penned both scripts) — a film that, with all of its technical lingo, could eas-ily lose the average filmgoer mid-shuffle. But just like its predecessor, “Moneyball” makes the potentially tedious relatively smooth — and with a far more bouncy, accelerated pace.  Though “Moneyball” lacks the acidic wit of “Social Network,” it makes up for it with characters that radiate far more warmth than the former’s oily protagonists.

Pitt’s jovially staunch every-Joe and Hill’s fumbling and soft-spoken savant balance each other out, creating surprising moments of goofy, broth-erly camaraderie. Jonah Hill, first introduced to audiences through his boisterous slacker-dork in “Superbad,” sits mute and pensive, offering advice and perspective only when asked. Pitt’s transformation is almost more unsteadying. Long gone are the days of “Troy”-esque concern for on-camera pretty-boy glam shots — director Bennett Miller (“Capote”) has made the ageless man finally live all his forty-something years.

And Pitt delivers: Gruff, upbeat and unyielding, he radiates fatherly knowing and charm in his dealings with both Hill and daughter Casey (Kerris Dorsey).Miller, to his enormous credit, shows remarkable restraint from the director’s chair, opting for delicate directorial flourishes (a snarky off-camera remark, a change in light-ing, an awkward pause) rather than bloat the tense moments for overly dramatic effect and dice it with a melodramatic score.

“Moneyball” may not pack “The Fighter”’s wallop, but its ragtag mob comes out the gate swinging — with a lesson in unflinching belief and loyalty that hits home in these rough economic times.

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