When the names Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zaillian came up in the closing credits, I knew why "Moneyball" had such a dandy script.
Academy Award winner for "The Social Network," Sorkin also was the pen behind "A Few Good Men" and TV's "West Wing."
Zaillian, meanwhile, wrote "Awakenings" and took the screenwriting Oscar for "Schindler's List."
In this image released by Sony Pictures, Brad Pitt, left, and Jonah Hill are shown in a scene from “Moneyball.”
(Incidentally, he just finished "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" and is now working on "A Thousand Splendid Suns.")
So it's not surprising that "Moneyball" is clever, comical and thoroughly entertaining.
Some credit for this goes to the splendid cinematography by Wally Pfister, who won last year's Academy Award for "Inception."
But much of it also goes to Brad Pitt - here playing Billy Beane, real-life general manager of baseball's Oakland Athletics during their legendary 2002 season.
It's easy to sell Pitt short because he's so handsome and popular. Personally, I think he's underrated; I've never seen him give a bad performance, and he should have gotten the Oscar for "Benjamin Button."
Not sure he'll get it here - but a nomination would be well deserved; Beane was the man who used a bold new formula (centered on reaching base) to build the struggling A's into a record-breaking franchise - for less than half of what the Yankees were spending on their players.
As Beane puts it: "There are rich teams, and there are poor teams; then there's 50 feet of crap - and below that, there's us."
It's not exactly a typical role for Pitt (if there even is such a thing), and he makes Beane enormously likable - energetic and courageous, but otherwise much more average than heroic.
Surprisingly, perhaps even more credit goes to Jonah Hill as the Yale-educated math whiz who helped Beane build his team.
Best known for straightforward comedies like "Knocked Up" and "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," Hill here plays a fumbling nebbish who is funniest when he's trying not to be; nearly all of this movie's best scenes have him in them.
In the role of A's coach Art Howe, Philip Seymour Hoffman is, according to a friend I sat with, "really convincing as a guy who doesn't wear glasses."
Or hair, I might add.
Mix in stellar work from Kerris Dorsey as Beane's charming daughter, Ken Medlock as a grouchy scout, Arliss Howard as Red Sox owner John W. Henry and Chris Pratt as first baseman Scott Hatteberg, and you've got one engaging film - especially when coupled with the underdog theme that never seems to fail in true-life sports films.
"Moneyball" is a cut above most such movies, partly because it's so funny, but mostly because it hews closely to the facts, and thus avoids the over-dramatization that plagues nearly every film supposedly based on real events. There is, however, one dramatic moment here involving Hatteburg; incredibly, this is the way it really happened - and that scene alone is worth the admission price.