Monday, September 26, 2011


Moneyball - ****

Directed by: Bennett Miller

Starring:  Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright Penn

Review:  'Moneyball' does not require the depth of baseball knowledge that the stats the movie uses would lead you to believe is needed.  That needed to be cleared up right from the beginning in order to make sure that nobody was deprived of this excellent film for fear of not knowing enough about baseball. A great sports movie reaches its greatness based on the fact that sports is not, at its heart, what it is about.  While baseball is the engine that makes 'Moneyball' go, it is not what this movie is about.

'Moneyball' is about realizing that what you see with your eyes may not be the whole story.  It's about realizing that things change and what you thought you knew you really didn't.  You don't know what you don't know, and when you try to figure out what you don't know, you start to ask questions and when you ask the right questions you might find the right answers.  That is what this film is about, looking beyond what you think you know and figuring out that there is more to it than you ever imagined.

In the opening we are shown clips of the Oakland A's losing in the 2001 playoffs to the New York Yankees.  Flashing on the screen is the payrolls for both teams, the New York Yankees sit at a paltry $140 million while the lowly Oakland A's are clocking in just under $40 Million.  It is quite the large disparity to be sure, but the A's were one of the best teams in the league and took the Yankees to the wire in the playoffs.  Considering the A's have much less money to spend it is great for them to be able to compete on that level.

However, things can change quickly and change they do.  Three of the As best players are becoming free agents after the season and they can't afford to keep them around.  Therefore, if they want to compete again, they need to fix the gaping hole left by these 3 great players.  This is where we meet Billy Beane, who is the GM of the Oakland A's and is tasked with finding the players that are going to fill this hole and make the A's a competitive team again.

On a trip to Cleveland to attempt to find some players Beane comes across a young man named Peter Brand.  Brand has some unusual ideas about baseball and statistics that most others in the 'old guard' of baseball don't share.  Matter of fact, if Brand tried to explain his views, he would be ostracized in the baseball world.  In order to keep his reputation and job intact, Brand hides his views, but still gets his opinion heard, but just makes sure it's on their terms.

Beane sees this, talks to Brand, realizes that he is fighting in an unfair game and decides to hire Brand.  Together, they discuss the route the A's need to take in order to compete and still field a team given their budgetary limitations.  Brand is a Yale educated economist who knows how to make things work by looking at numbers and realizing that value is not necessarily all tied up in the normal metrics that the baseball world has been using for years.

Brand takes Beane into this world and together they decide to wholeheartedly buy into the method.  The other scouts and personnel people in the A's organization don't believe in what Beane is doing and call it stupid, crazy, and a waste of time.  Beane doesn't see it that way.  In his day, Beane was as good of a hot shot young prospect as there was, but he never panned out as a player.  After a few years in the majors Beane flamed out, decided to become a scout and found his way to being the GM of a franchise.

Beane knows that the methods they have been using to evaluate their team and their players is archaic and needs to be changed, but nobody in interested in changing and isn't interested in figuring out how to change either.  Beane’s team manager Art Howe is not on board with the new philosophy.  He continues to play players that aren't part of Beane’s plan and this causing much friction between the two.  Howe’s contract is coming up after this season and he is trying to do the best he can in order to look good for other teams after his contract is up.

Eventually, once Beane forces his method on Howe, something happens, the A’s begin to win.  All of the sudden, Beane’s fervor for this method has some meat behind it because his team is able to win with the best of them.  Beane was right about it all and was right to throw his whole weight behind it, but he is not satisfied.  Beane doesn’t want to just win, he wants to find a way to change the game.  Part of the reason Beane believed in his method is because he believed that the way the old guard had been looking at things was not the correct way to do it.  Kids make decisions that affect their entire lives based on what baseball people tell them, but more often than not, those kids lives don’t amount to much in professional baseball.  With more and better information Beane can change that and not only help his team but help baseball so that so many young people’s lives are not irrevocably altered.

Beane as a character is expertly played by Brad Pitt in what may be the best performance of his career.  He toes that line between a-hole and sympathetic with such eloquence he almost certainly has garnered himself an Oscar nod.  Most other players are bit roles with the exception of Jonah Hill’s Peter Brand.  Hill’s portrayal of a man learning the ropes while trying to take the game into unchartered territory is both realistic and very well done.  Hill has quite a bit of talent and will have a future as a dramatic actor, despite all of the success he has had with his comedic roles. 

Even if you aren’t a baseball fan, this movie is DEFINITELY worth your time. 

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