Tuesday, October 4, 2011

'Moneyball' Goes Behind The Scenes of Baseball

 Four Stars

‘Moneyball’ opens with the statement, “$114,457,768” vs. “$39,722,689”, to symbolize the budget of the two teams at play. One is the Yankees, and the other is the Oakland A’s. The Yankees beat the Oakland A’s in the Division games. This greatly bothers Billy Beane (Brad Pit), the general manager of the team. He talks on the phone, then talks to his higher ups about what kind of money he can get for the team, then talks and talks. Of course, the team isn’t doing well, disappointing the fans, and this doesn’t hold well for their budget. So, he travels to Cleveland to talk to the Indians about a trade. It’s there, he meets a young guy named Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a nerd with a economics degree from Yale. Impressed by his skills, he makes a trade of his own, and Peter comes on board with him at the Oakland A’s. Brand has a philosophy about baseball, that they can build a great team by getting undervalued players cheap. To everyone’s surprise, Beane decides to take a chance on this guy, and his higher ups look at him like he is crazy.

His team manager, Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a bit offended at the fact that Beane is taking advice from some nerdy kid instead of experienced baseball experts, like himself. Brad Pitt turns in a calm performance as Beane, a straight forward guy who wants to win. Jonah Hill’s performance is focused and very good. They make an unlikely team. Something starts to happen, as the team starts to win, after a few tries of different guys. This is a film that knows that baseball is a business, like everything else, and doesn’t boggle down in baseball movie clichés. It isn’t about the players as much as it’s about the people putting together the team. The screenplay, no surprise, is full of dialogue and talk scenes. And that’s no surprise because the screenplay was co-written by Aaron Sorkin. The film was directed by Bennett Miller, who directed Capote. He does a good job here, making the film have an office feel. The film has a business feel. It spends more time in the office than it does on the baseball field.

This film isn’t about the glory of the game. It’s about what goes on behind the scenes of the glory of the game. Even when the team is winning, Beane feels that it doesn’t mean anything until they win the big one. Beane states he is just a guy with a high school diploma who would like to send his daughter to college, unlike Brand, who has a diploma from Yale. You can tell both these guys really love the game. Yes, in different ways. Yet, you can tell they share a love for this. Beane used to be a baseball player himself, and Brand loves putting together the numbers, even if it’s questionable whether he himself has ever picked up a bat.

The performances here are very good, and so is the script. At the end of the film, as I won’t give away, but I suspect those who have been keeping up with the sports pages over a number of years already know, Beane turns down something huge. My brother, who’s a big baseball fan, already knew the story that was going to happen. I’m just a movie critic, so I didn’t follow this story. My stuff appears on the entertainment and arts or lifestyle pages (or wherever the newspaper decides to stick this syndicated review column), so I came into this movie not knowing the full extent of how the A’s got to the top. As someone who doesn’t follow sports, the film still kept me interested.

That being said, ‘Moneyball’ is an intelligent homerun. It’s a business film, and a baseball film. It’s no surprise it’s a business movie, as it is based on the book by financial journalist Michael Lewis. I think you don’t have to be a baseball fan to enjoy this film. It is an intelligent and mature picture about baseball without all of the glory and clichéd scenes of sports figures. It’s about the real guys behind the scenes of the ballpark and not about just the baseball players. At one point in the film, one of the characters says you can’t play kids games forever. And Beane knows this, and so does Brad Pitt. Here is a film that takes baseball seriously.

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