Moneyball is one of the smartest, most effective sports movies I've ever seen. It captures the "love of the game" spiritual gravitas of The Natural and Field of Dreams while also embodying the melancholy of nostalgia for the "glory days" (see Friday Night Lights). But Moneyball's most obvious antecedent and kindred spirit isn't a sports movie at all. It's The Social Network.
The Moneyball / Social Network comparisons are numerous: Both are Sony Pictures; both are written or co-written by Aaron Sorkin; Both feature fast-paced chattiness and the negotiating of high dollar deals; Both examine the minutiae of men using technological savvy to "change the game" and make millions; both are about how computers are changing everything. Both films are also exquisitely made and impressively adept at making the mundane (business deals, statistics, programming) absolutely riveting.
But Moneyball isn't just The Social Network: Part II. It stands on its own two feet as, if not quite a masterpiece, then certainly one of the best ever of its genre. It's a film that avoids cliches and doesn't focus on heart-tugging, tear-jerking melodrama as much as it does on the fascinating subtleties on the business side of baseball. It's also a character study of one man trying to fulfill his calling in baseball but also in fatherhood. It's a film about ambition--about the intensity in the eyes of someone who wants something badly and will stop at nothing to get it; but it's also about the disappointment that success brings--because there's always something more, always a next benchmark just beyond the reach of even the most decorated and successful of men.
Brad Pitt's performance as Oakland A's General Manager Billy Beane is the centerpiece of Moneyball and worth the price of admission. But Jonah Hill's supporting role--perhaps the first serious role for the comedy star?--is also a highlight, and the two play off of each other winningly.
Moneyball is a unique film that in many ways parallels the sport it documents. Like baseball, the movie is sometimes quiet and reflective, sometimes intense and rowdy, sometimes playful and sometimes deadly serious. It's also a movie that cares about people, heroes, their histories and their reaches for glory.