Jonah Hill talks about his new movie “Moneyball,” also starring Brad Pitt, coming to theaters this Friday.
Imagine a Greek hero, raunchy teenager and gay author sharing a Major League Baseball field.
Enter Brad Pitt (“Troy”), Jonah Hill (“Superbad”) and Philip Seymour Hoffman (“Capote”) in the upcoming film “Moneyball,” a drama about how sabermetrics challenged the way baseball was played for more than 100 years.
Like other memorable sports films, there is usually a great underlying message. Take “Remember the Titans” or “Invictus,” which both dealt with civil rights, or “Brian’s Song,” which dealt with terminal cancer or “The Fighter,” which dealt with family and drug abuse. In the words of Jonah Hill, the athletics act as more of a backdrop.
Jonah Hill summarized this sentiment, whch rings true in “Moneyball.”
“Filmmakers just use baseball as a beautiful backdrop, aesthetically, to tell a really moving story about being undervalued and being an underdog,” he said in an interview last week.
On the surface, “Moneyball” tells the story of the Oakland Athletics’ general manager Billy Beane (Pitt) and his struggle to put together a winning team despite financial setbacks. The film opens with footage from game five of the 2001 American League Championship Series, during which the A’s lost the American League title to the Yankees.
Between the footage, numbers flash up on the screen. When a difference of more than $50 million between New York and Oakland’s payroll is displayed, the audience knows the sheer economics of the film are pertinent to today.
Throughout the piece, Pitt’s character works against a traditional management team filled with men who refuse to shake things up, including Art Howe (Hoffman), the A’s manager.
Running out of options and determined to put together a competitive team, he hires Peter Brand (Hill), a fresh Yale graduate with a degree in economics. Brand points out that Oakland does not have to buy players, it has to buy wins. In order to win, they must get people on base.
From that point on the two work as a team, using math instead of experience to win games. They work against everything that has been done in baseball, and risk both of their jobs and reputations in the process. This is where the film’s true colors shine.
For a college student, the story is powerful. And the film is definitely reaching out to college audiences by casting Hill.
“I’m lucky to be younger and to have a younger audience,” Hill said. “I think characters like Mark Zuckerberg [in “The Social Network”] or Peter, who in this story is the assistant [general manager] of a pro baseball team at such a young age, are really inspirational.”
Hill has obviously transitioned into a more serious role for “Moneyball.” When asked which genre he prefers, he said, “I am making a conscious effort to do more dramatic, if the movies are good. I don’t care about if it’s a drama or a comedy or a period piece, it wouldn’t matter to me as long as I felt like it could be a great movie.”
Hill’s big transition is not the only one that comes across in the film. The difficulties of transitioning from school into a professional life come across even stronger today than they would have in 2002, when these events transpired, or in 2003, when the book the film is based upon was published. Today, we face staggering odds as we move closer and closer to graduation and experiencing the “real world’s” economic crisis.
Brand is paralleled by flashbacks of a younger Beane that are interspersed perfectly throughout the film. At the end of his high school career, Beane was offered a full ride on a baseball-football scholarship to Stanford University. At the same time, he was offered a spot in the Mets’minor league system.
In the film, his parents leave the decision up to him, and the options are daunting. Though both are opportune, it is a huge decision for someone to make at such a young age. The subtleties of these raw scenes are the true beauty of the storyline.
Billy chooses the Mets, but has a less than average career. Another powerful message of the film comes from an employer’s vantage point: You never know. Every hire is a risk. The applicant may be excellent on paper, in an interview or at an audition. But she or he may not perform well in the long run.
In addition to crafting an exquisite image of the workplace from the application and hiring standpoint, “Moneyball” does an even better job of tackling the issue of letting someone go.
“Having to fire the guy, offend the guy, trade the guy…that scene is one of my favorites, especially for my character,” Hill said in regards to a scene where Pitt’s character has him fire a player. “You can literally see [Peter] grow up a little bit over the course of having to do something like that. It was tough to shoot that scene because I felt really bad.”
History shows that despite all the changes, the A’s did not make it to the World Series that year. That does not mean, however, that Beane and Brand–a composite character based on a few historical figures–did not make an impact. The audience learns that just because one’s message does not touch millions, influencing one person can make all the difference.
“For me, that is what I would want to get across,” Hill said. “This is a really moving story about being undervalued and being an underdog.”
“Moneyball,” directed by Bennet Miller (“Capote”) and written by Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network”) and Steve Zaillian (“Schindler’s List”), comes out in theaters this Friday.
Matt can be reached at email@example.com.