Michael Lewis is a writer with the rare ability to make reading about sports just as thrilling as watching them. More importantly, he's been able to find the human element in stories that appeal to people who otherwise wouldn't care about sports.
Lewis's 2006 book, "The Blind Side," looked at the important function the position of left tackle serves on a football team. It could have been a dry, academic subject, but he told it through the story of Michael Oher, who went from insurmountable poverty to a first round NFL draft pick with the help of the charitable Tuohy family. The book served as the basis for the movie of "The Blind Side," which became a huge financial success -- earning over $300 million worldwide -- and won a Best Actress Oscar for its star, Sandra Bullock.
Now, another of Michael Lewis's books on sports is making the leap to the big screen, with the hope that it will bring in both the ticket sales and the accolades that "The Blind Side" did. It's called "Moneyball," and it's about how a struggling Major League Baseball team changed the definition of what makes a player valuable. But it's also about Billy Beane, a man who fell short of his own dreams as a big leaguer and stood up to the established order and defied a century of conventional wisdom. And there was only one actor to play such an iconoclastic character: Brad Pitt.
Watch the exclusive trailer for "Moneyball" below, and keep reading to see how Beane's inspirational story -- and the Oscar-caliber talent both in front of and behind the camera -- could make this another "Blind Side"-sized hit.
After six seasons as a major league ballplayer, Billy Beane decided he'd rather be in the Oakland A's front office than out on the field. In 1998, he became the team's general manager at a time when the A's had one of the smallest payrolls in the game. While the 2002 New York Yankees were doling out over $125 million a season on player salaries, the A's had just over $40 million to spend. But rather than subscribe to the notion that expensive superstar players was the only way to win, he radically changed the way teams recruited and utilized their players.
"Moneyball" the book examined how a radically different way of looking at baseball statistics known as "sabermetrics" influenced Beane to choose players based on how often they got on base -- by both hits and walks -- rather than simply looking at batting averages. But it also told a very human story of how Beane, a first-round draft pick in 1980, never reached his full potential as a player. His anger control issues -- Lewis writes that his outbursts caused his teammates to sit apart from him on the bench -- and unrelenting perfectionism hampered his career.
It's the personal side to the story that made the book compelling and makes the part of Beane so rich for an actor like Brad Pitt. Beane is a charming figure, but prone to fits of rage like the moment Pitt overturns his desk in the trailer. Beyond the stellar source material, though, Pitt has his own team of all-stars working behind the scenes.
The film is directed by Bennett Miller, whose previous film "Capote" was nominated for five Oscars including Best Picture and Director, and its star Phillip Seymour Hoffman won for Best Actor. Hoffman also appears in "Moneyball" as the Oakland A's manager, Art Howe. Also, the screenplay is by a pair of Oscar winners: Steven Zallian, 1993's winner for "Schindler's List," and Aaron Sorkin, who took it home last year for "The Social Network."
From the trailer, it looks like "Moneyball" has the same mix of humor and sports action as "The Blind Side," but it doesn't quite seem as broadly emotional. And like the earlier film, it does change some facts about the real events for the sake of the story. Jonah Hill's character, called Peter Brand in the movie, is a fictionalized version of Beane's assistant GM Paul DePodesta (who had actually worked in baseball before). And with Oakland coming off a .500 season where they missed the playoffs, some baseball fans are questioning if Beane's unconventional methodology is still effective.
Of course, Brad Pitt's main competition for a Best Actor Oscar this year might just be himself. He's earned a lot of praise for his work in "The Tree of Life," and both roles will most likely be considered for a nomination.
We'll see if Pitt really has a home run on his hands with "Moneyball" when it hits theaters on September 23.