Brad Pitt’s new American male hero

Moneyball’ and male values

2 minute read
Pitt as Billy Beane: What money and machismo can't buy.
Pitt as Billy Beane: What money and machismo can't buy.
Billy Beane, Brad Pitt's character in Moneyball, is the general manager of the Oakland A's, whose tight budget has undermined the team's success on the field. The film opens on a close up of Beane clutching a radio, listening to the A's losing the conference title. Enraged by his team's failure— one of many baseball failures in Beane's life— he throws the radio across an empty stadium and marches back to his office.

As the film develops, we grow to understand the deep emotional strings of failure, insecurity and lost potential that weave the underlying fabric of Beane's almost monomaniacal pursuit of success. As we learn, however, there might be a winning formula that the East Coast teams seemed to monopolize for decades. And it involves neither money nor macho posturing, but male intellect. In a word: cunning.

What we witness is a classic American story of a rugged, aggressive and somewhat misogynistic man learning the value of two things money can't buy: patience and thought.

Missing Tom Hanks

Pitt delivers his lines with the same ease and nuance as he does in every arrogant, emotionally fragile and aggressive role he has played as, for example, a boxer, a lawyer, an Irish terrorist and a gladiator, not to mention the personification of death itself (in Meet Joe Black). But what makes his performance unforgettable is his ability to convey glimmers of vulnerability beneath the armor of ego and male chauvinism. We love Pitt because he shows us the soft side of the stereotypical male experience.

So what happened to the nice guys of the Hollywood blockbuster? Where is Denzel Washington or Tom Hanks? During these unstable economic times, when the U.S. seems to be losing its world economic championship, Americans are desperately hanging on to their aggressive and dominant male role models.

Perfect American man?

Yet while Brad Pitt in Moneyball may simply reinforce one more negative and potentially harmful film example of male behavior, he simultaneously demonstrates the failures and weaknesses of this male stereotype. Moneyball isn't just a tale of American exceptionalism with the typical "underdog" rise to success; Pitt and director Bennett Miller successfully portray the mistakes and failings of a seemingly perfect American man, while suggesting that perhaps money isn't the key to success.

This film is evidence that, finally, America may be ready to confront the deep psychological problems underlying our flawed approach to development, economic growth and foreign policy. If American audiences see Brad Pitt embrace a new, more subtle and perhaps more modest approach to success, they too might learn how to embrace a new approach to leadership and national identity— one that's thoughtful as well as strong, patient as well as aggressive.♦

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What, When, Where

Moneyball. A film directed by Bennett Miller. For Philadelphia area show times, click here.

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