Brad Pitt‘s performance [in Moneyball] is an almost old-fashioned, movie-star one,” the narrator says in this 2.9 Press Play “Should Win” essay. Nope, not “almost” — it is a movie-star performance, and an intimate and revealing one at that. On the level of George Clooney‘s vulnerable anguish in The Descendants, and way, way beyond what Jean Dujardin delivers in The Artist.

“In another universe, one could imagine Jimmy Stewart or Cary Grant taking the part,” the narrator continues.

Yeah, Stewart of the early ’50s could have strode around in Billy Beane’s shoes. Or William Holden or James Garner. But not Grant. When it comes to baseball, Cary Grant is strictly a spectator. (I’m recalling how he seemed slightly out of place when he took in a N.Y. Yankees game with Doris Day in That Touch of Mink.) In Moneyball you believe right away that Pitt has baseball in his blood. He sells that when he throws his radio out of his car, and then gets out and walks over and repeatedly stomps on it. Cary Grant does the horse-whinny thing and gets angry, but he doesn’t stomp on things.

“[Pitt] brings to the role an assured quality of overzealous, yet understated, lust for ultimate success that was forged in the fires of years and years of failure,” the narrator goes on. “He’s charming and cheeky and funny, and very good looking (despite the hideous early naughties’ haircut and lumbering fashion sense). Pitt brings a subtle comedic take to what could have been a rather boring central role; his various dealings with other managers, his scouts and players, betray genius-level timing and mimicry.”

You know who also delivers genius-level comic timing? Without having any conventional laugh lines to work with? Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Art Howe. His shining moment happens in Act Two when Pitt knocks on his office door and says “Art, got a minute?” Hoffman registers three or four emotions in the space of three or four seconds — rage, indigestion, depression, resignation — before grunting “Yeah, what’s up?” I laugh at this each and every time I’ve watched this scene, and I’ve watched it a good ten or twelve times.

There is more move-magic wonder and transportation in those three or our seconds than in all the grinning and tap-dancing and dog tricks and exaggerated mugging in the entire 100-minute length of The Artist.

Ali Arikan, chief film critic of Dipnot TV, wrote the piece. Dave Bunting, Jr. did the narration. Ken Cancelosi cut it together.