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'Moneyball' hits the right pitch

Published September 28. 2011 05:01PM

"There's no crying in baseball," Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks) told us in "A League of Their Own" (1992).

There is crying in "Moneyball" and not only when Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) hears his daughter, Casey (Kerris Dorsey) sing "The Show" (the original was released in 2008 by Lenka). This scene alone should net an Oscar actor nomination for Pitt, who may be a dual nominee (his other Oscar actor nod could be for "The Tree of Life").

Also look for an Oscar supporting actor nomination for Jonah Hill as Peter Brand, the spot-on geeky sports analyst (based on the real-life Paul DePodesta, Beane's assistant general manager), who cites an "epidemic failure" to understand what's happening on the baseball field.

The statistical approach (said to be based on Bill James' sabermetrics) like "card counters at the blackjack table" to baseball that Beane instituted for the 2002 Oakland A's season (setting a record for 20 consecutive wins) is said to have led the Boston Red Sox two years later, using a similar approach, to their first World Series title since 1918.

"Moneyball" tells the true story of Oakland A's general manager Beane's attempt to assemble a baseball roster on a budget that would be an American League pennant contender, using computer analysis to draft and trade the players. The Yankees, with their apparently unlimited budget, are the bad guys in this storyline.

"Moneyball" ranks right up there with the great baseball movies, including "The Natural" (1984), starring Pitt's mentor, Robert Redford. In "Moneyball," Pitt has a laconic, congenial charm similar to that of Redford. In dialogue, Pitt even sounds, at times, like Redford.

Yet, Beane's outward sunny smoothness is as jarring as a broken-bat foul sent down the first base line, born of the same scouting disappointment he turned out to be as a rookie baseball player. Therein likes the back story, told in flashbacks, that lifts "Moneyball" above your typical true-story based sports movie.

Pitt produced "Moneyball," which is directed with consummate skill by Bennett Miller (the superb "Capote," 2005), from a crisp screenplay by Steven Zaillian ("Gangs of New York," "Awakenings" and Oscar screenplay winner for "Schindler's List") and Aaron Sorkin (Oscar screenplay winner, "The Social Network"), from a story by Stan Chervin based on the lauded book , "Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game" by Michael Lewis ("The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game").

"Moneyball" is tension-filled, thanks to director Miller letting scenes and actors breathe, working with director of photography Wally Pfister, who uses lots of telephoto lens for close-ups (as in the scenes with Beane and the Oakland A's scouts).

In supporting roles are Philip Seymour Hoffman as Oakland A's Manager Art Howe, and several actors playing noted baseball players.

With "Moneyball," there's no need to choose between 2D or 3D or Imax, and scant visible, if any, Computer Generated Imagery (CGI). The movie successfully integrates actual television baseball game footage with the fictional re-creations. This is old-school Hollywood film-making at its best.

The "Moneyball" film-makers have not forgotten the importance of story. And what a story it is: That of an underdog manager (Beane), an underdog statistician (Brand), and a team of underdog players (The A's).

In this, "Moneyball" becomes an inspirational metaphor for creativity, inventiveness and entrepreneurship. The screenplay tells the story with a modicum of gentle humor, as well.

At more than two hours in length, "Moneyball" does play a little long and, especially mid-way, could use a seventh-inning stretch.

That said, "Moneyball" is a must-see for baseball fans, sports team players and coaches and, of course, Brad Pitt fans.

"How can you not be romantic about baseball?" Beane asks. Indeed, as we head toward the Major League Baseball post-season and the World Series, "Moneyball" could be the right pitch for couples, too.

"Moneyball," MPAA rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13) for some strong language; Genre: Biography, Drama, Sport; Run time: 2 hours, 13 minutes; Distributed by Columbia Pictures.

Credit Readers Anonymous: Attention, Red Sox fans "Moneyball" includes scenes filmed at Fenway Park, Boston.

Box Office, Sept. 23, "The Lion King," in its 3D re-release, again ruled at No. 1, $22.1 million, $61.7 million; keeping several new releases from the top spot, including: 2. "Moneyball," $20.6 million; 3. "Dolphin Tale," $20.2 million; 4. "Abduction," $11.2 million; and 5. "Killer Elite," $9.5 million.

The weekend box office was $116 million, the highest-grossing September weekend.

6. "Contagion," $8.5 million, $57.1 million, three weeks; 7. "Drive," $5.7 million, $21.4, two weeks; 8. "The Help," $4.4 million; $154.4 million, seven weeks; 9. "Straw Dogs," $2.1 million, $8.8 million, two weeks; 10. "I Don't Know How She Does It," $2 million, $8 million, two weeks

Unreel, Sept. 30:

"50/50," R: Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as a 27-year-old diagnosed with cancer in the dark comedy also staring Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard and Anjelica Huston.

"Dream House," PG-13: A family learns their New England dream house is a former crime scene. Jim Sheridan directs Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz and Naomi Watts in the mystery-thriller.

"What's Your Number?," R: A woman (Anna Faris) reflects on her relationships in the comedy that also stars Chris Evans, Blythe Danner and Ed Begley Jr.

"Courageous," PG-13: Four police officers struggle with their faith and their roles as husbands and fathers in the drama directed by Alex Kendrick ("Fireproof").

Read previous movie reviews at Email Paul Willistein at: and on Facebook.

Four Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes

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