MOVIE: Moneyball (2011)

Any fan of baseball will find plenty to like about this film, which is based on a non-fiction book of the same title by Michael Lewis, who also wrote the book the film The Blind Side was based on.  It’s about ex-ballplayer Billy Beane, GM of the Oakland As, and how he, along with a kid named Paul DePodesta (fresh out of Harvard with a degree in economics), completely revolutionized the way baseball teams pick players.

Unless you love the game, though (or are a serious math nerd, I suppose), I’m afraid you won’t get much out of Moneyball, despite the fact the writer and director tried extremely hard to give it a broader appeal.  The sad news is, it was that very thing — the addition of a hammy subplot about Beane’s ex-wife and daughter — that took what might’ve been a great movie and turned it into a flick too long by at least 30 tedious minutes (all of which were absolutely insufferable dreck).

Though ultimately, this film really only succeeded for me as a teaser for the book, it’s an entertaining teaser, for the most part.  Beane (Brad Pitt) was General Manager of the Oakland As in the late 1990s when the team’s budget, already low, was slashed dramatically by its owners.  The As had long struggled to be able to afford star players, and with this latest round of payroll cuts, Beane was convinced they were doomed — unless he could figure out a way to think differently about what truly makes a winning team win.

It was right about this time Billy met Paul (Jonah Hill), a young Harvard grad working as a statistician for another team in the majors.  When that team wouldn’t trade him the players he wanted, Beane “bought” Paul instead, and as he began talking to the economist, he realized the kid had some incredible ideas about how to make a ball team successful on the cheap.  Using sabermetrics, Billy and Paul began analyzing the sport’s least valued players, and, after juggling the numbers, realized they could build a team virtually guaranteed to be a success and still stay under budget.

Naturally, the rest of the A’s scouts, owners, and managers were horrified by Beane’s proposed line-up — to them, it just looked like a team of misfits and losers.  But he pushed his ideas through, got the team he wanted, and then sat back to watch them . . . lose.  Manager Art Howe (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) refused to follow Beane’s advice on the order in which to bat each player, which Paul had calculated would promote the most base hits, and the result was exactly what everybody had expected:  a miserable flop.  But as the team continued to get creamed left and right, Howe finally caved and began to do what Billy and Paul were telling him.  And, of course, the As then immediately launched themselves into a record-breaking series of wins, making it to the playoffs that same year.

The parts of this film that focus on the statistical work behind the scenes are the best parts of the picture.  Watching the ballgames was fun, of course, too.  But the addition of way too many scenes featuring Beane’s ex-wife and daughter, and the other personal struggles he was experiencing off the field, were absolutely awful.  They were trite, badly acted, and felt clumsily inserted — an afterthought clearly intended to alter the demographics for the movie’s audience and bring in more chicks.

Newsflash, filmmakers:  chicks dig baseball too.  And what’s more, we hate being pandered to.  Y’all should knock that shit off.

Nevertheless, despite this movie’s numerous weaknesses (to be honest, this is not Pitt’s best work either), I was definitely entertained and, what’s more, the film really piqued my interest in the book.  Watch for a review of that coming in the next few months.

And in the meantime, only 24 days until ball players report for Spring Training — hurrah!

[Netflix it | Buy it]

Genre: Drama
Cast: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright, Chris Pratt, Stephen Bishop, Reed Diamond

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6 Responses to “MOVIE: Moneyball (2011)”

  1. briantoohey Says:

    I guess I liked this one more than you did, Meg. And I didn’t feel like the off-the-field stuff was bad. I also didn’t feel like they spent very much time on it. I definitely do have a math brain, so the statistics angle appealed to me and I found the whole idea, and the story, fascinating. But as I said in my review, while I felt like the movie was incredibly solid and never did anything badly, it also stopped short of greatness and never really emotionally connected with me, which is what would have needed to happen for it to succeed on that next level. I felt like the success of the film kind of paralleled the success of that scrabbled-together A’s lineup– statistically it worked and they avoided most errors, but it also didn’t equate to the kind of success story that captures and enraptures audiences.

  2. briantoohey Says:

    Also, I’m beyond shocked that Jonah Hill got a nomination for this. And, well, Brad Pitt, too. Although politically that one was more or less a given. They’re both very solid in this, and Hill does have a few interesting beats to play, but neither part demands much of the actors.

  3. RogerBW Says:

    I have basically zero interest in baseball – pretty much none in any sport, and we don’t even play this one in the UK – so this film is precisely calculated to appeal to people other than me. (Even if the side plot were compelling, I’m not likely to care about a baseball manager in the first place…)

    I find the idea of Sabermetrics (and sports stats in general) an interesting one, but the fact that it’s still possible to bet on sporting events suggests that there’s still a great shortfall between the model and the reality.

  4. Meg Says:

    Totally true about sabermetrics, Roger — and for all the great seasons the As had after they implemented that system, they still couldn’t win in the post-season, which is one of the problems with sabermetrics. It works best when you have a large sample of games to apply it to. It doesn’t seem to work very well at all when you apply it to 5-7 games in the playoffs season.

    Brian, Hill and Pitt both got nominations for this? For what, Golden Globes? Man, that just goes to show you how right you were on your blog (http://briantoohey.wordpress.com/, for those who don’t know) when you said it was kind of a dry year for great film! Also, I think the parts that were trying hardest to forge an emotional connection with the viewers were the parts with his family — because those parts were such bombs (for me, anyway), I came out of this the same way you did — no real emotional connection to the characters. Though I sure do love that game.

  5. Liz Says:

    Oh, man! Do I ever agree that it was a “dry year for films!” and I also agree about cutting out that s**t! I haven’t seen “Moneyball” yet, but I bet both hubby and I will have similar reactions to yours, Meg. I love baseball too …. But I don’t want to be a “chick.”

    This storyline reminds me of one of our faves: “Major League,” except that here, it’s more or less a true story. Maybe the secret behind such stories is to play them for laughs. “Men with Brooms” (about a so-called “misfit” Curling team) was wonderful, and so was “A League of Their Own” (which also happened to have my all-time favorite quote: “There’s no crying in baseball!”). But then, “Invictus” (soccer in So. Africa) was good, too, and that one wasn’t a comedy.

    So, what’s the answer? Okay – stopping now.

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