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The Independent Critic

Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright, Chris Pratt and Tammy Blanchard
Bennett Miller
Aaron Sorkin, Christopher Wilkinson, Steven Zaillian, Stan Chervin, Stephen J. Rivele and Michael Lewis (Nonfiction Book)
Rated PG-13
133 Mins.
Columbia Pictures
Blooper-Brad Loses It;
Billy Beane: Re-Inventing the Game;
Moneyball: Playing The Game

 "Moneyball" Review 
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We already know that both Brad Pitt and Philip Seymour Hoffman are darn fine actors.

Jonah Hill?

Unless you managed to catch Hill's rather unhinged performance in last year's indie darling Cyrus, then you're likely still unaware that beneath his potty mouth humor and overweight ordinary joe persona lies a surprisingly gifted young actor.

The secret's out.

Co-starring alongside Brad Pitt and Philip Seymour Hoffman in Bennett Miller's Moneyball, the world is about to discover that Jonah Hill can act.

Based upon the true story of real life Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane, Moneyball is 2011's first serious entry into the awards race beyond the possible token nominations for a couple of summer's box-office blockbusters. Beane (Brad Pitt) turned the baseball world upside down by taking his ultra-low budget A's to a rather miraculous 20 straight wins by tossing out the usual ways of evaluating players and utilizing a computer-based analysis to draft the team's players. Beane's sidekick in the adventure is Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a Yale-educated statistical wonderboy who was toiling away as a Cleveland Indians underling when discovered by Beane.

When the year began, most critics and film pros were pegging Pitt for an Oscar nomination ... for his role in Terence Malick's The Tree of Life. While that film garnered quite a bit of critical praise, others found it self-indulgent and pretentious and, for the most part, audiences stayed away. Moneyball will be different, though it will be interesting to see if Oscar comes knocking given Pitt's understated, disciplined performance that doesn't exactly scream out "Give me awards."

Philip Seymour Hoffman, who captured the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Truman Capote in Bennett Miller's first film, Capote, could very well be looking at yet another nomination with his performance here as Art Howe, the team's old school manager. Hoffman always manages to find more within his characters than is on the written page, and the same is true here as he turns a rather one-note character into someone far more complex and intriguing.

Robin Wright shines in a relatively brief appearance as Billy's estranged wife, while newcomer Kerris Dorsey is simply fantastic as Billy's young daughter. Among the players, Chris Pratt leaves the strongest impression as a washed up catcher given new life by Beane as a first baseman.

Adapted from Michael Lewis's nonfiction book by Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian, Moneyball is decidedly low-key yet intelligent, witty and for the most part quite captivating. While the film is inspired by a true story, it's worth noting that aspects of the film are admittedly fictional (Peter Brand is said to be inspired by current Mets Vice President of Player Development Paul DePodesta).

It doesn't take being a baseball fan to become completely enthralled with the film. In fact, I personally can't stand the sport. While Moneyball is set squarely in the world of baseball, there's so much more going on that even baseball haters like myself will be captivated by the story, the characters and how the film plays out. Most of the film's action doesn't even take place on the field (though there is the obligatory high suspense inspirational scene), but behind-the-scenes and in the corporate offices.

Among the many co-stars Pitt has had over the years, he may never found as good of an onscreen partner as he has with Jonah Hill, whose nervous sort of quirkiness is perfectly complementary to Pitt's more polished and confident baseball exec. The two have a sort of edginess between them that is simultaneously dramatic and frequently funny.

The film is lensed terrifically by Oscar-winning cinematographer Wally Pfister with Mychael Danna's original music also weaving together the film's dramatic and humorous moments with ease.

Moneyball is the first film of 2011 with a genuine chance of ending up in The Independent Critic's Top 10 of 2011, a genuinely entertaining and intelligent film for baseball and non-baseball fans alike. There are so many scenes that sizzle with the electricity of well written characters bringing an exciting story to life that one can forgive the couple of scenes that fall a bit flat and that the film itself runs a good 15 minutes too long.

There are two terrific choices hitting theatres this weekend - Dolphin Tale for the families and this film for adults craving an intelligent yet entertaining experience. Awards season is just getting ready to get started, but director Bennett Miller has served up 2011's first real contender.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic