Sometimes it seems like the actual sport of baseball and how baseball is portrayed in movies are two completely separate worlds. This examiner is incapable of watching a full baseball game on television. After only an inning or two, the urge to jump out of a window crosses my mind, if I’m even still awake at that point. Baseball movies, however, usually tend to have a much higher success rate in keeping my attention. Perhaps because they often spend most of the time focusing on the characters, only checking in on game action for dramatic purposes and to break up the monotony. ‘Moneyball’ certainly does that.
Against all odds, small-market baseball team the Oakland Athletics made the playoffs and gave the New York Yankees a scare in 2001. After the season, most of their big name talent left via free-agency for big money contracts on teams with huge payrolls. Everyone expected the Atheltics (or “the A’s” as they are known by many) to roll over and have a horrible follow-up season.
General Manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) intends to put the best team together than he can with the limited financial resources at his disposal. He meets a Yale economics graduate working for the Cleveland Indians named Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) who has an interesting way of evaluating players’ value. Beane hires Brand to be his assistant and the two of them seek out players who are undervalued around the league that the A’s can afford. Paying particular attention to on-base-percentage, a crew of misfits are assembled that looks like anything but a professional baseball team.
Will Beane’s rag-tag group of castoffs come together and win? Can Beane get on the same page with his team’s manager Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman)? Can this new approach revolutionize the age-old thought process that throwing money at some big names is the only way to win?
Since this was written by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, two men who have worked with David Fincher, you should know that this has a chance to be good. The cast is strong and the director, Bennett Miller (also responsible for ‘Capote’) has a great handle on the material, so it can be said the film delivers on its potential.
Statistics junkies will salivate about how analytical Peter and Billy are about players and how they defy conventional wisdom. Their management decisions may seem impersonal and slavish to a slightly crackpot theory, but the results eventually come to fruition. Their success flies in the face of the old-school way of thinking and even divides many people within the organization.
Billy’s personal life is only glimpsed into with the relationship with his daughter at the forefront of that. His ex-wife barely gets the time of day. Unlike a ‘Bull Durham’ or ‘Field of Dreams’ this isn’t overly concerned with Billy’s romantic life or nostalgia. While it does refer back to a particular decision of his youth and his own connection to the game, his experience as a player is really a bargaining chip that earns his players’ respect. His attempted success as a GM is his way of validating going this path in life.
The Peter Brand character is really interesting (and nomination worthy) because here is a young man who is great with numbers, but not so much with people. His new role forces him to overcome that and to break bad news when necessary. Jonah Hill really tried something more mature than his usual fare and it succeeds. Pitt is also excellent in his role, though few people should have doubted that.
The only possible complaint someone might have would be that the actual game of baseball seems to be an afterthought. You see a handful of archival footage, and a few recreations, but little in the way of on the field suspense (perhaps because people can just look up the the results). The standings are updated via montage and games that some people would have liked to check in on are just skipped over. There is also the fact that the story keeps most of the players at an arm’s length. That might be to approximate Beane’s forced detachment and willingess to make personnel moves.
Special features include: a blooper, deleted scenes, a look at Billy Beane and a making of featurette.
Maybe this particular examiner was a little biased because his favorite team was the focus of the film (that is a completely random story which doesn’t really warrant inclusion here) but ‘Moneyball’ is yet another great sports movie. The characters mention it in the film, but this is a game that is easy to romanticize.
I’ll probably never enjoy watching a full game, but as long as the sport inspires good stories, play ball!
Rated PG-13 133 minutes 2012
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When J.J. Ellis isn’t writing as the Allentown DVD Examiner, his Decent Exposure Radio can be heard on the air every Friday night from 10:30 to midnight (EST) on WXLV 90.3 FM or wxlvradio.com!