Brad Pitt plays baseball by numbers as Billy Beane, the real-life manager of the Oakland Athletics who, left with no cash and no star players, assembled his 2002 team based purely on statistics. Jonah Hill is the humble data-cruncher whose idea had traditionalists, scouts, and the A's on-field manager (Philip Seymour Hoffman) up in arms. Until they started winning... Pitt charms, Hill amuses, and writers Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing) and Steve Zaillian (Schindler's List) spice up the playbook to ensure this true underdog story bats way above its average.
Philip Seymour Hoffman
In sport, it's a truth universally acknowledged that you don't play on paper. Ask anyone who's ever wondered why they wasted all that time picking a fantasy football team.
But after losing his star players to baseball's big boys ahead of the 2002 season, Billy Beane, general manager of the cash-strapped Oakland Athletics, defied all sporting conventions by building a winning team out of players from the bargain basement.
A story of mavericks, misfits and rejects, it ticks all the boxes for a true underdog crowd-pleaser. The problem here, of course, is that baseball movies rarely reach first base on this side of the Pond.
So it's testament to the star power of Brad Pitt, the dorky appeal of Jonah Hill, and the skill of writers Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zaillian (both having scored Oscar-winning home runs with The Social Network and Schindler's List respectively) that you don't need to know much about baseball or statistics to enjoy Moneyball.
But it helps.
As a high school ace who never played to his potential, Beane is a lone wolf of a manager, always having the courage of his convictions yet superstitiously refusing to join his pack on the field.
But aside from his daughter, the team always comes first. Which is why his wife (Robin Wright) is now with someone else.
It's also why he hires Yale economics graduate and total baseball anorak Peter Brand (Hill) to help him rebuild his team on a shoestring. With his bogglingly detailed player records, Peter shows Billy the statistical value of every major leaguer under the sun.
In return, Billy schools his new assistant manager in the blunter points of man management. But despite treating players as little more than living trading cards and little support from the A's cynical on-field manager Art Howe (Hoffman, reuniting with his Capote director Miller), they somehow turn a bunch of unwanted losers into World Series contenders.
How they fared is a matter of record. But it's way more exciting if you don't know how they got on. Even if you do, it's impossible not to be carried along as they embark on their phenomenal winning streak.
And while making no effort to explain the terminology - mathematical or baseball-ical - the script throws enough fastballs to keep even the most ignorant of us Limeys entertained.
The film inescapably belongs to Pitt, following in the footsteps of Robert Redford (The Natural), Dennis Quaid (Everybody's All-American), and the mighty Costner (Bull Durham, Field of Dreams) as the latest ageing golden boy to step up to the plate for Hollywood.
If you're immune to his charms, forget it. Otherwise, play ball.