Does it mean I've officially become too suspicious for my own good when I read a widely distributed story like the one that broke this weekend about "Moneyball" and my first reaction is "I don't believe that's the whole story at all"?

Best case scenario:  the story is exactly what Variety reported in the first place.  Paramount... which is sort of not really even in the making-movies-on-their-own business right now, but which is more in the we'll-release-it-and-maybe-cofinance-a-piece-of-it business... actually rewards Brad Pitt for just making the biggest money-maker of his career for them and picks up this under-$60-million investment to fill in a mighty thin 2010 slate and it turns out to be this angry passionate home run by Soderbergh because he's pissed off at Pascal and he ends up with another Oscar for it.  And you know what?  That's the sort of narrative Oscar voters looooooooooove.

But that's assuming that all that happened was Pascal read a draft she didn't like and blinked.  For whatever reason.

What if that didn't happen?

Is there a Brad Pitt jinx yet? 

Or is he just one of those oh-so-fickle movie stars a la William Goldman's classic Adventures In The Screen Trade?

[more after the jump]

There are many Brad Pitt projects that have bellied-up over ethereal "creatives differences," which is of course the perogative of any serious artist.  And I do take Pitt seriously.  I think he's proven himself many times over as a guy who makes good choices, and who makes the most of the opportunities he's given.  He knew what his screen time in "Thelma & Louise" could do for him, and he was right.  From the beginning, Pitt's been a pretty shrewd caretender of his image, which is the true skill set that separates a movie star from a working actor.  Tom Cruise isn't the best actor of his generation, but he might be the most savvy manipulator of image.  And Will Smith's gift is the way he has nurtured the Will Smith brand to be so very, very iconic.  Pitt is, in my opinion, a better actor than either Smith or Cruise.  Consistently.  Johnny Depp made a choice when he did "Pirates Of The Caribbean" that turned him into a very particular type of movie star, where he mostly makes big broad films now, with gigantic character choices each time.  But Pitt is doing the heavier work, film for film, I think.

I hope this really is what's being reported.  I do.  But after "The Fountain" and "State Of Play," Pitt's definitely been part of beaching some pretty major productions that were fairly far down the road when it happened.  And once you've done that to a couple of fairly big films, it becomes a question.  A question that could so easily be turned into a variety of filthy jokes, but a valid question nonetheless:  did Brad Pitt pull out?

I hope this lands quickly, with everyone attached.  What I've heard about the film is really interesting and provocative, and I read the book to try to get a grasp on why this is such a challenge.  It's not really a narrative.  It's a gripping piece of reportage about the 2002 season for the Oakland A's and the way one guy, Billy Beane, the general manager of the team, used his particular knack for seeing the statistical value in some severely undervalued players to combine them to maximum effect.  It's amazing, even if you have no real interest in baseball, but it's a lot of talk about the way Beane played the system that is fairly dense... not remotely cinematic.

This is Steven Soderbergh, of course.  And I think he's consistently one of the most interesting and genuinely experimental guys who has ever worked in the mainstream.  The fact that he directed the "Ocean's 11" trilogy... and the fact that it's a freakin' trilogy and that one of them starred Al Freakin' Pacino... is almost too weird to accept.  This is also the guy who made "Bubble" and "Schizopolis," films I quite like but that I can't imagine recommending to 90% of the people I talk to about film.  He's got a good relationship with all the movie stars he works with... Clooney and Pitt in particular, it seems... so I hope these two guys are still committed to making the film together.

We'll see how this shakes out this week.

C'mon, Brad Grey.  Wouldn't you look cool if you saved the day?

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