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Legends of the Ball

Moneyball (2011)

Melinda Sue Gordon/Columbia Pictures

Steven Soderbergh was unceremoniously fired from “Moneyball” about two years ago after revising an alleged grand slam of a screenplay from Steven Zaillian into a quasi-documentary that would devote 10 percent to interviews of real-life figures and another 10 to “reenactments of real events as remembered by the people playing themselves.” Those who read his script confirmed it was that bad, although we’d like to give Mr. Soderbergh the benefit of the doubt after seeing what he did with “Erin Brockovich.” At the very least, this biopic about Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane starring Brad Pitt could have been inspired and fun in Mr. Soderbergh’s hands. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about the final score achieved by his late-inning relief, Bennett Miller.

Essentially, screenwriters Mr. Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin have fashioned the film into another “Jerry Maguire.” But Mr. Miller’s earnest sensibility and solemn style — as exemplified by the Oscar Best Picture nominee “Capote” — here make “Moneyball” one long seventh-inning stretch. As Mr. Beane, Mr. Pitt is subdued for some unbeknownst reason. One almost wishes he could summon up the kind of energy it takes Jerry Maguire to jump on Oprah Winfrey’s couch. As Peter Brand, the thinly-veiled Paul DePodesta character, Jonah Hill also mysteriously fails to at least turn this into a buddy flick.

To the filmmakers’ credit, you can leave the theater with a good grasp on how sabermetrics works and why it revolutionized Major League Baseball. But their biggest mistake in the end was to not make “Moneyball” about sabermetrics. Messrs. Zaillian and Sorkin turned an anticlimactic end to the A’s 20-game win streak into an opportunity for some sort of uplifting personal epiphany for Mr. Beane: It’s fine that the team loses, because in the process he learns the importance of being a better dad to Casey (Kerris Dorsey), who serenades him with song at a guitar shop in an especially cringe-worthy scene. “Moneyball” ultimately leaves you with goose bumps all over, except not the good kind you get from a rousing crowd-pleaser.


Opens on Sept. 23 in the United States and on Nov. 25 in Britain.

Directed by Bennett Miller; written by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, based on a story by Stan Chervin and the book by Michael Lewis; director of photography, Wally Pfister; edited by Christopher Tellefsen; music by Mychael Danna; production design by Jess Gonchor; costumes by Kasia Walicka Maimone; produced by Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz and Brad Pitt; released by Columbia Pictures. Running time: 2 hours 13 minutes. This film is rated PG-13 by M.P.A.A. and 12A by B.B.F.C.

WITH: Brad Pitt (Billy Beane), Jonah Hill (Peter Brand), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Art Howe), Robin Wright (Sharon), Chris Pratt (Scott Hatteberg), Stephen Bishop (David Justice) and Reed Thompson (young Billy).


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