Moneyball

Inside Baseball

         
 

24 September 2011| No Comments     by Sean Chavel

 

Thinking man’s movie more about the numbers than it is about the baseball diamonds. Moneyball is a dialogue-strong, location-authentic look at how baseball is played off the field. This true story chronicles the behind the scenes look at the science of winning behind the Oakland Athletics’ 2002 season. General manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) was hindered by working with the lowest budget of any team in Major League Baseball, and yet he commissioned a pudgy grad from Yale named Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) to help scout replacement players by charting through computer analysis. There’s less recreation of on-the-field big plays than there is of archival television footage, but it’s considerably an indispensable serious baseball movie of how big bucks drive the game.

Beane was a New York Mets rookie sensation in 1984 but flamed out by 1989, asking for a position in general management with the A’s. The biggest heartache of his second career is seeing his team year after year lose the Big Game. After losing star players including center fielder Johnny Damon, first baseman Jason Giambi, and closer Jason Isringhausen to other teams with flushed pockets, Beane was looking forward at a likely losing season. The New York Yankees for instance have a $114 million budget. The A’s are a small market team with a $39 million budget. He is dogged in his resolve to change something about the A’s knowing that money alone isn’t going to do it.

Some of the best scenes of “Moneyball” come early, with the scenes of Brad Pitt (“The Tree of Life”) shepherding in Jonah Hill (“Superbad”) from the Cleveland Indians and using him as his most valuable resource in brains. The older scouting coots are offended, one of them outright furious. They seem to be the correct prognosticators: The A’s begin the season with 11 losses in a row. Soon following the All-Star break, the A’s set a record for most consecutive wins in Major League Baseball history.

The third biggest name in the cast is Philip Seymour Hoffman (“Capote”) as team manager Art Howe. Rarely before has a performance that puts out so little meant so much to the film overall. This portrayal makes an argument that MLB team managers really don’t do all that much. It’s a hoot that Howe gets credit for the A’s winning streak while Beane gets none of the glory, and it’s when Beane gets involved in the locker room is where “Moneyball” really gets a glint in its eye.

I am not sure if Beane believes in the romance of baseball as much he says he does. Brand will say something great about the game that triggers a glimmer of joy for Beane. But really Beane is pinned with the unromantic job of hiring and firing, of moving players like inventory, and negotiating salaries. There’s an odd parable at work in “Moneyball” in the way it shows Beane as his own jinx (he can’t watch the games, he has to lift weights or go on wandering drives). His own daughter, whom he picks up from his ex-wife on occasional weekends, has to remind her daddy that he’s not a loser.

It’s so crisply made that it only, if deliberately, lingers slowly towards the end – trying a little too hard to set us up for its revelatory ending. Still it works, and the writing and acting is sharp. You can probably guess who is sharp in this film (Pitt and Hill are the lead-off sharpies here). Some of the slow-witted players, or just shy players, or arrogant players, have the right amount of inflection in the delivery of their speech. Directed with intelligence and steadiness by Bennett Miller (“Capote”), this flick has the legs to last relevantly for a long, long time.

133 Minutes. Rated PG-13.

SPORTS DRAMA / BIO PICS / WEEKEND AFTERNOON MOVIE

Film Cousins: “The Natural” (1984); “Hoosiers” (1986); “Bull Durham” (1988); “Any Given Sunday” (1999).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of flickminute.com, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.

 

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