By Christine Kearney and Bob Mezan
TORONTO (Reuters) - Brad Pitt has turned to the insular world of baseball economics for his latest movie and yet the Hollywood heavyweight is a relative rookie in terms of obsessing over one of America's great pastimes.
The A-list actor is one of the top draws this week at the Toronto International Film Festival for the launch of his new drama, "Moneyball." He plays Billy Beane, the real-life general manager of Major League Baseball's Oakland A's, who is famed for reinventing the game by running a competitive team in a cost-effective way.
Pitt told Reuters that he learned to appreciate the nuances and complexities of the game while making the movie, helped by several meetings with 49-year-old Beane, but he is not your typical baseball fanatic.
"It's shameful how little I know about baseball, but what I know about it, I got -- it was a pop fly in the fourth grade -- 18 stitches," he told Reuters, referring to getting hit by ball when he was just a kid, opening a flesh wound.
"I find it really tranquil when it is on (TV) in the background now...There is a reason why it has become our national pastime. It's a team sport yet at the same time it is an individual battle."
The film's creators want movie audiences to see that "Moneyball" is not just another tale in the vein of "The Natural," "Major league" or other baseball films that have become ubiquitous in U.S. theaters.
They are banking on Pitt, 47, to transform Beane's use of bland statistics and mathematical tables into entertaining movie fare. And for that, they've tailored the story of the Oakland A's into a tale of beating the odds.
"We are always looking for undercurrents in films, what is going on underneath it," Pitt said, adding that "Moneyball" is "much more than a baseball film" and more of "an underdog story. You have a justice story."
AN UNDERDOG'S TALE
The film with a budget of $47 million was adapted by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of "The Social Network," from the Michael Lewis book "Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game.
It begins with Beane coming off a highly successful 2001 season where the small market A's lost baseball stars including Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon to big city teams with lots of money such as the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.
Beane recruits an unathletic Yale graduate, Peter Brand (played by Jonah Hill), and the unlikely duo push a novel approach of using statistics to scout players who will create a competitive team at far less cost.
It may seem like inside baseball to some, but Pitt and Hill said the story of Beane and Brand should appeal broadly to moviegoers who aren't necessarily fans of the game.
Hill said he showed it to friends "who couldn't care less about baseball and they all adored it...It is really about values and underdogs and life choices."
Pitt believes that, statistics aside, the spontaneity of the game which lures fans to ballparks isn't lost in the film.
"These guys apply science to it and yet the magical happens when you least expect it, which was true for their season," he said. "It's a magical game, no question."
Early reviews have been generally favorable. The Hollywood Reporter said the movie "looks good perhaps not for a home run but certainly a long double or even an exciting scoot around the bases for a head-first triple."
Daily Variety compared it to Sorkin's "Social Network," saying "the story isn't as electrifying. 'The Social Network' was about a highly unusual alpha dog; Moneyball is the story of a highly unusual underdog. No one remakes the world here. But someone does remake the grand old American game of baseball."
(editing by Bob Tourtellotte)