By Bret Dorman
You know, for a movie that a lot of people are saying “isn’t about baseball”, Moneyball sure has a lot of scenes dealing with baseball (i.e. all of them).
But get ready for this curve ball (haha!), Moneyball isn’t about seeing people play baseball all the time, no, because that’s boring. Moneyball is about watching people look at numbers and talk about baseball. Ah, now that’s exciting!
The Story: Former baseball player now general manager of the Oakland A’s Billy Bean (Brad Pitt) recruits the fresh out of Yale desk boy Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) to help him change the game forever! They do so by picking players based on numbers! Also, apparently people REALLY don’t like it when you try to change baseball forever.
As I mentioned up top, despite what some people claim, this is VERY much a baseball movie. It’s ALL about baseball. But instead of trying to win games by using their hearts, love of the game, and the power of underdog, they try to win by playing the game statistically. As Beane puts it in one scene ‘they are card counters at Las Vegas’. I like that.
So why would you want to watch a bunch of people talk about numbers about stats about baseball? Let me refer you to the commentary of Collateral with Michael Mann. As Mann (one of my favorites) points out, you don’t need to know every little thing that is happening. You don’t need to know the specific details or mentalities behind what is going on. But the cast and crew do need to know that stuff. And if they know what they are doing and the story is compelling enough, even if you have no idea what is going on, you’ll subconsciously be aware of what is happening in each scene. On a very basic level, you’ll at least be able to tell what each scene means to a character and whether or not they are happy about what is going on. That’s enough.
I do know enough about baseball to follow along without getting lost in the baseball babble, even though the babble is still pretty friendly to most. As a kid whenever my dad was driving somewhere, we would usually listen to sports radio. Now I like sports (Indoor Lacrosse (Go Rochester Knighthawks!) and Tennis in particular), but I’m not a sports junkie. I don’t care about football on a daily basis. I just watch on Sunday (or Monday/Thursday when necessary) and know the rules and regulations and strategies and hope that A) The Redskins win and B) The Cowboys lose. There is a point to this minor rant… and that point is however much I personally don’t care about sports, it still is really fascinating to listen to people who do know what they are talking about talk passionately and sometimes authoritatively about it. That’s what this blog is based upon; you may not care about movies on the same level as me, but it sure is fun to read my reviews on movies. Plus my opinions on movies are the best. Fact.
Most the dialogue is fun and quippy. You can feel Sorkin’s hand in this during scenes of scouts talking about players and Beane on the phone trying to trade players. I don’t know anything about the real life stuff that happened but I did hear one reviewer mention that the Jonas Hill character Peter Brand is actually a combination of several different real life people and that he doesn’t exist in real life (Brand, not Hill). So that’s probably where writer Steve Zallian came in, making a cohesive story out of a mess of real life events. Director Bennet Miller then puts it all together and chooses some interesting shots at times while probably needing to keep other scenes a little trim.
The problem of course is that you have a cohesive story, but not a thoroughly engaging one. I understand Beane had trouble as a player and that he is now in charge of one of the ‘crappiest teams in baseball’ especially in terms of budget. But two things about that: 1) This movie opens with the A’s losing a playoff game. Playoff. That means they were good enough to make playoffs, which isn’t something every team does. So they have to be a little bit good. I understand they are being ‘gutted’ and losing a bunch of players but I think they over exaggerate how bad they are a little. B) I’m not sure exactly why Beane wants to change the entire game so much on a personal level. To justify why he did so poorly and find a system that values crappy players? Right…
Beane also has some scenes with his daughter Casey (Kerris Dorsey). Some people are complaining that these scenes are too forced but I think Dorsey holds her own with Pitt on the screen and makes them somewhat charming. At the very least they aren’t that long and definitely come into play later.
Then there is Peter Brand, who is very funny (although not in a silly or obnoxious way), but we know nothing about. Why not make some stuff up about this imaginary character? Philip Seymor Hoffman has some good scenes as the coach, Art Howe. But his character never gets any resolution. And Billy Beane has a couple of confrontations with scouts who are mad at him for going against ‘years of tradition’ and Beane just ignores them and tells them that he has already made up his mind. Then he seems to not understand why they are mad because he is ignoring them AND trying to develop a system that sort of puts them out of a job.
As the movie winds to its conclusion(s), we get more and more actual baseball which is a little tiresome, to slow down the story and all of a sudden go for the thrill of the sport. I understand why it is done, but I say pick one game, not a couple. Then there is the last shot. I won’t ‘give it away’ or anything but I hated its guts. It’s basically the shakiest camera ever zoomed in all the way trying to capture Pitt’s emotions by focusing on his eyes during a scene that could have been effective, even if it was a little sappy.
In Conclusion, Moneyball was the underdog story no one knew they wanted to see featuring some great talents doing some great work. Because it’s based on a true story and real life limitations specific to Baseball as a sport and business… I guess we couldn’t transplant the overall idea to a better sport like Football.
But hey… it could have been worse. It could have been about Basketball…
Final Grade: B (for baseball!!! tehehe)