As many of you have probably noticed, the EW staff kind of has a thing for Moneyball, and its star Brad Pitt.
The movie premiered last weekend to a cozy $20.6 million, making it the best premiere ever for a movie about baseball, and got a glowing “A-” grade from EW’s Owen Gleiberman, who also posted that the movie’s smart script hearkens back to a time before America became addicted to F/X gimmickry.
It’s definitely Pitt’s show, but his in-the-face-of-tradition general manager only thinks to rock the boat after meeting Jonah Hill’s refreshingly understated statistician. Together, they set off like Batman and Robin to change the way the game is played. I loved Moneyball, I thought it was a sexy look at the business side of professional sports and days after watching, I still find myself thinking about how uncharacteristically “normal” Jonah Hill was in it.
Hill’s most notable characters have a certain auditory volume to them, and tend to be poster children for the boomerang generation. By portraying an irreverent high-schooler looking to score booze and women in Superbad, a would-be pornographic web developer in a frat-esque apartment of stoners in Knocked Up, or a stalled college student having a bad night in the upcoming The Sitter, he has deftly personified the embodiment of arrested development. Even when he dials back the noise like he did in Cyrus, he does so with a few quirks — a territorial man child with an Oedipal complex.
How off-type, then, to see Hill in Moneyball as a polite, successful, mid-level employee with a heart who errs on the side of being timid. If Pitt’s Billy Beane has the tough job of avoiding personal attachment, Hill’s assistant is the player’s champion who does it for love of the game. While a room full of scouts fill Beane’s ear about how certain players would look better on a poster, Hill is the one quietly explaining that a player can get the job done even if they throw funny.
Some of the film’s best moments come in the go-between between Pitt’s and Hill’s characters. The scene where they meet is movie gold. Pitt barges into Hill’s cubicle and asks him, forcefully and repeatedly, who he is and why the management listens to him before snatching him for his own team. Later on, Pitt makes a series of tongue-twisting conference calls, trading players like playing cards while Hill looks on, crunching the numbers and offering advice. It’s a mile-a-minute scene with nothing but dialogue where the wheeling and dealing goes miles above your head but keeps you glued to the screen.
Hill makes it look easy. He starts the film with an awe-shucks look of wonder and slowly — and naturally — his character becomes more comfortable in his position. By the end, as he sits players down to tell them some bad news, it feels like a pitch-perfect evolution from the character. It’s a quiet, emotional performance that in many ways reminds me of his co-star Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Not to mention, he looks great. Jonah Hill 2.0 sports a slimmed down figure and combed hair instead of his unruly Superbad fro. Maybe it’s just the glasses he wears in Moneyball, but he looks like he means business.
I’ve never considered myself a big Jonah Hill fan. He’s a funny guy and he’s made some great movies but nothing has ever really resonated with me like Moneyball did. I would hardly expect him to abandon comedy but I like what I saw and hope he continues to stretch his dramatic side.
What did you think PopWatchers? Is this the kind of role you’d like to see more of from Hill? Or would you prefer that he gets back to raunchy R-rated comedies?