So the Oakland Athletics baseball general manager named Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) loses big at the beginning of this decade. What does he do? He finds a young white college grad named Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) who is more into numbers and stats than he is into baseball and immediately trusts every single word the kid says. In the process, he poops all over his long-time team of scouts, managers and trainers, explains nothing to nobody, and completely re-builds his team by eliminating all human or emotional elements from the choice. And then he eventually gains a record winning streak.
This process is not a pretty sight. While Brad Pitt looks more and more like an aging Robert Redford’s physical clone, he is a study in the absence of nuance. He is not convincing as a baseball figure. In contrast, Phillip Seymour Hoffman hits it out of the ballpark (you anticipated that, right?) as the field manager who is forced against everything he’s been taught to go with Beane’s decisions, not the least because if he puts someone into the lineup that Beane hasn’t specified, Beane trades the player on the spot. Brand is a bewildered geek at first, but quickly gets into the ways of power and agrees to inform veteran players that they’ve been dropped without notice – reminding me of that college experiment in the 60s in which college students, in the context of a supposed science research project, gave electric shocks amounting to torture to subjects writhing before them – just because some teacher told them to.
I found no one to love in this film. I found the film’s time frame – just a few years ago –about actual people a bit discombobulating. And I missed the feeling, like we had back in 1960, with Roberto Clemente, Bill Mazeroski and Smokey Burgess, when the Pittsburgh Pirates won the World Series and we all danced in the streets. The gains of this team came out of rudeness and arrogance and it was hard to give a damn.