Brad Pitt Hunts for Baseball Bargains in ‘Moneyball’ at Toronto

Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill in "Moneyball." The film is at the Toronto International Film Festival. Photographer: Melinda Sue Gordon/Toronto International Film Festival via Bloomberg

Brad Pitt smiled when asked if baseball executive Billy Beane’s strategy of signing undervalued talent to cheap contracts could work in Hollywood.

“Not if they hired me,” the highly paid star told reporters at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Pitt was in town to promote “Moneyball,” based on Michael Lewis’s best-seller about the tradition-shattering system Beane pioneered with the Oakland Athletics.

Pitt stars as Beane, a highly touted prospect who had a short, disappointing major-league career. He became a much more successful general manager, assembling competitive teams with one of baseball’s smallest payrolls.

“This is a guy whose life didn’t turn out the way it was supposed to,” director Bennett Miller (“Capote”) said at the press conference, where he shared a table with Pitt and cast members Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jonah Hill and Chris Pratt.

“He was supposed to be a superstar ... but it took him more than a decade toiling in failure before he accepted that it wasn’t going to happen. So it ends up being much more than a sports story.”

Winning Streak

Beane and his assistant, an Ivy League numbers whiz played by Hill, analyzed players using offbeat statistics instead of the judgments of baseball scouts.

The approach gained a lot of attention in 2002, when the Athletics won an American League-record 20 straight games and the AL West title, one of four they captured during a seven-year period under Beane.

Even though Oakland has never reached the World Series during Beane’s tenure as GM, other teams have copied his methods.

“It’s about questioning things we accept every day,” said Pitt, sporting a salt-and-pepper beard and long hair parted in the middle.

“Just because we’ve been doing something the same way for so long doesn’t mean that it’s right for today. If we were inventing the automobile now, do you think it would run on a finite resource that we have to go to war for?”

“Moneyball,” which comes out Sept. 23 in the U.S., is as much about Beane’s quest for redemption as it is about baseball. It’s a hard film to categorize, which might make it a tough sell at the box office. While it’s thoughtful and well-acted, the deliberate baseball-like pace leads to some dull spots.

Journeyman Player

The film almost didn’t get made. Several directors, including Steven Soderbergh, left the project before Miller came aboard and the script went through many revisions.

“It’s complicated material,” Pitt said. “It’s not your conventional story with a conventional character arc, so it took a lot of shots at it and a lot of people getting their fingertips on it.”

Hoffman plays Athletics manager Art Howe, an old-school baseball man who resisted Beane’s newfangled theories. Pratt portrays Scott Hatteberg, a journeyman player who became a key contributor on the 2002 team.

“He was a working-class baseball player, and that’s who I am as an actor,” said Pratt, who has appeared in TV’s “Everwood,” “The O.C.” and “Parks and Recreation.” “Most people don’t know who I am and I don’t get paid a load of money.”

Realistic Action

Some baseball movies, including “Pride of the Yankees” and “Fear Strikes Out,” have been marred by awkward, unrealistic action on the field. “Moneyball” hits a home run with authentic baseball scenes, mixing real footage and re-enactments by former players.

“Every baseball player in the movie, apart from myself, played in the pros on the minor or major-league level,” Pratt said. I would take this baseball team against any other baseball team from any other baseball movie.”

Asked to name some of his favorite sports movies, Pitt mentioned “The Bad News Bears” and “North Dallas Forty.”

“I think ‘North Dallas Forty’ was the first R-rated movie I snuck into,” Pitt said. “It has a special place in my heart.”

(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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