November 01, 2011 2:54pm PT by Scott Feinberg
Does Brad Pitt's Beane in 'Moneyball' = Gregory Peck's Finch in 'Mockingbird'?
Ever since I first saw Bennett Miller's Moneyball at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, I have been trying to pinpoint what it is that makes Brad Pitt's extraordinary performance as Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane feel so familiar. I think that I've finally figured it out: we've seen this performance before.
When you think back across film history, many -- if not the majority -- of the male characters that we cherish most are those who resist the temptation of an "easy" route and instead do something selfless, noble, and right, just like Pitt's Beane.
We admire Charlie Chaplin's Tramp in City Lights (1931) because, despite being impoverished himself, he raises the funds to help someone else who is, in a sense, far worse off than he, even though she will never know that he is the person who helped her (or so he thinks).
We admire Humphrey Bogart's Rick Blaine in Casablanca (1943) because, against all odds, the woman that he had loved and lost years earlier, and whose disappearance all but ruined him, comes back into his life and offers to stay, but he makes her leave with another man for the good of their common cause.
We admire Henry Fonda's Juror #8 in Twelve Angry Men (1957) because, though eleven other jurors would rather get home in time for dinner, he resists pressure and denigration in order to stand up for the rights of a person that he has never met, and ultimately convinces the others to do the same.
And, above all other film characters (at least according to the AFI), we admire Gregory Peck's Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) because, even though he faced immense pressure not to represent a black man who had been accused of a crime, and even though the verdict was probably fixed against him from the start, he took on the case because he wanted his children to know that some things are important to do even if they are hard.
I see aspects of Pitt's Beane in each of the aforementioned characters, but particularly in Peck's Finch. Why? Think about it: Both are smart, soft-spoken, single fathers who hope to teach their offspring to do the right thing by conducting themselves honorably in their own lives. Neither achieves their ultimate goal (a not guilty verdict for Finch, a playoff birth for Beane), but both go down having done something truly noble (Finch promotes justice for all, Beane turns down millions from a successful team in order to stick with the one that gave him a chance when no one else would) that their children can learn from and be proud of, and that audiences can't help but admire and respect.
The Academy acknowledged Peck's performance with a best actor Oscar. They might well do the same for Pitt's.