Movie #37: Moneyball

First off, I am no sports fan (and sports movies are not high on my list either), but a friend suggested that Moneyball was good enough that I might enjoy it anyway — and he was right. Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane, a former pro baseball player who became the general manager of the Oakland A’s. After a close-but-no-cigar loss at the 2001 World Series, Beane needed a way to rebuild the team after some of their best players got snatched away. Their budget was a fraction of what the leading teams were given, so Beane needed a miracle. His staff of old-guard scouts (and they got some of the oldest actors — actually it was the real guys, hence the age) and advisors made proposals and recommendations based on intuition and other less-than-rational faculties, but it was not providing a good (or affordable) solution. On a trip to Cleveland, he met Peter Brand (played by Jonah Hill) who was providing advice to the Indians’ manager based on new method of statistical analysis and computer algorithms (invented by another guy, Bill James). Beane brought Brand to Oakland to help him build a team roster that was competitive, cost-effective, and inventive. Unfortunately, it was a hard sell for everyone else when they brought in players who seemed deficient, too old, or were just poor choices. Plus, some people saw these new tactics as a threat to their jobs and a questioning of their experience and expertise. In particular, the head coach Art Howe (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) actively defied and undermined what Beane was doing. Nevertheless, he had committed to this method for their team and was determined to make it work. Since this is based on a true story, there are no plot twists that aren’t already a part of ten year old news (though ignorant non-fans like me will still feel the tension and surprise as the story unfolds on screen). Pitt does a great job of playing Beane as someone with a lot of self-confidence (even when he gets almost no support for his decisions after going on a limb with Brand) and handles self-doubt and insecurities well. This is not a feel good sports movies about how the underdogs make good with a fresh new approach to playing the game. It’s a more realistic portrayal of a man making a lot of tough decisions in a make or break situation. I don’t know how many of the conversations or scenes actually happened to the real Billy Beane, but I suspect that many of them have been enhanced by literary license (this story was first a book by Michael Lewis) and Hollywood magic (including the screenwriting contributions of ace scripter Aaron Sorkin). However, it makes for good drama. The on-screen character of Billy Beane was fascinating. We got flashbacks of his early days as a failed player, and also glimpses of his family life, all of which clearly informed his approach to the business. I was amazed at his unwavering faith in Brand’s method. Though there was one slightly funny scene where he turned to Brand and said “This better work,” only to retract it with an “I’m just kidding”. Unfortunately, there was very little of Beane’s relationship with Brand on screen. I would have been really interested in Brand and what he went through. Jonah Hill does a really good job as well (though I am a bit surprised that he did “Oscar-nomination” well — then again I’ve never been a good judge of acting quality). I’m just happy to see (he says with as little malice as possible) a story where the nerd beat the jocks at their own game! These events supposedly revolutionized the sport (and the movie is convincing on that point) but that is lost on a non-fan like me. The amazing thing is that it didn’t matter for the movie. The fact that it was about an area that I had previously cared nothing about, was secondary. I still found this to be an engaging, interesting, well-written, well-acted human drama (4.5 out of 5).

37 down, 13 to go!

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