Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) is the general manager of the Oakland A’s, and his biggest problem is putting together a winning team on a minimal budget, especially when teams like the Yankees and Red Sox are buying out his most valuable players. Billy is tired, frustrated, and resigned to the fact that the flow of money also determines the flow of the “best” players, so when he comes across a new method of configuring baseball teams through statistical analysis, he instantly latches onto it. This new method comes by way of Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), who is pudgy and socially awkward and has recently graduated from Yale with a degree in economics.
The plot is highly predictable but enjoyable. Billy Beane’s new methodology goes against all traditional processes of choosing players, which not only upsets the scouts but brings him negative press—in part because if Billy does succeed, the entire game of baseball is threatened: the fear that sport is not about talent but about statistics would be realized. Yet his methodology does succeed in part—and Peter Brand helps him realize this success.
Beyond the plot however, the most compelling part of the movie was the character development of Billy Beane and then Peter Brand, who is in some way Beane’s foil. Billy Beane is past the brink of glory, a could-be baseball success story who failed miserably after choosing the big leagues over a college education. Still, Billy Beane is the “cool guy,” who is brash, hard-headed, and at times unwieldy. Peter Brand is brainy without Beane’s brawn, and he is initially portrayed as timid and meek. But what I found interesting was the way each character’s confidence was unraveled: Beane’s confidence is so concentrated at the surface—in his interactions with the scouts, in his brazenness, in his quick decisions—yet he is unable to let go of his failed past. This inability is probably the biggest blow to his confidence. Brand, on the other hand, is taciturn not because of a lack of confidence in his beliefs, but a lack of courage that impedes action (and his character reeks of repression). Beane and Brand are at once foils and complements, and they educate one another in both explicit and implicit ways. Sometimes Brand’s character felt two-dimensional though, and I wanted to see more of him—I wanted more complexity and depth. But for what it’s worth, as someone who has little to no interest in baseball, this movie kept me engaged all the way through—much thanks to Billy Beane and Peter Brand.