Saturday, September 24, 2011

Review: "Moneyball"

Moneyball was one of the best reviewed films at this year's Toronto International Film Festival. It is certainly a good film and well worth seeing, but it is very generic and the bulk of its success ought to be attributed to Aaron Sorkin's involvement with the screenplay (credited to Steve Zaillian). The film is directed by Bennett Miller, whose only other directorial feature, Capote (2005), won childhood friend Philip Seymour Hoffman an Academy Award. The bulk of the film's promotion and TIFF buzz centred around Brad Pitt. Pitt has never been one of my favourite actors and Moneyball does nothing to endear him to me (which might be due to his horrible haircut), but sports films depend more on the portrayal of the sport rather than the acting. The film is based on Michael Lewis' 2003 book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game. Lewis was able to follow the Oakland Athletics throughout the 2002 Major League Baseball season. Moneyball is a film that looks at the sport of baseball from behind the scenes. It does not so much focus on the sport than on the men who tried to turn team building on its head. David Frankel was first attached to the film as director and then was replaced by Steven Soderbergh, who had wanted to intercut the film's narrative with documentary-style interviews with the players involved. I am not sure if the film would have been as successful. There is a real story in the film, about a man's fearless quest for redemption. Moneyball is a good film with a smart screenplay and Brad Pitt does a a credible job in a starring role. I am not sure I can jump on the bandwagon because I was not wowed so much as simply entertained by the film.

After losing in the American League Divisional Series in 2001, the Oakland Athletics lost three of their star players. General Manager Billy Beane (Pitt) becomes frustrated by his scouts who are focused on simply replacing the lost talent. The problem is that the Oakland Athletics have the lowest payroll in professional baseball and are unable to pursue the top players. On a trip to visit the Cleveland Indians Billy meets Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a recent Yale graduate who has a different take on assessing players' assets. Billy is so impressed by Peter that he buys him away from the Cleveland Indians and hires him as his Assistant General Manager. Together Billy and Peter use a Sabermetric approach to rebuild the team. Sabermetrics, a tool used by Bill James, basically only looks at a players offensive output in terms of on base percentage and scoring runs. Billy recruits Jeremy Giambi (Nick Porrazzo), a decent player with a history of poor personal decisions, David Justice (Stephen Bishop), an aging former All-Star, and Scott Hatteberg (Chris Pratt), a former catcher who can no longer throw the ball. The Athletics' manager Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is vocal in his frustration and refuses to play the team the way Billy intended. This forces Billy to trade away players in order to force his manager to play the team he wanted. Eventually the Oakland Athletics embark on a MLB record twenty game winning steak and end up back in the playoffs. Billy's strategy of moneyball becomes a sensation and he is offered better opportunities.

Billy Beane was once a high school phenom. He was offered a scholarship to Stanford University, but chose to instead join the New York Mets. Though he was immensely talented, Beane could never translate his success into the major leagues and played for four different teams during his six year career. In the film we see young Billy (played by Reed Thompson) fail as a baseball player and we are supposed to be more sympathetic and eager to watch him succeed as a General Manager. Themes of redemption are very common in films, and I am not sure how much it helps Moneyball to give us this background. I did not quite see the correlation between past and present except in relation to the film's ending. Moneyball is a good film with good performances and a good screenplay. There is nothing outstanding about the story, but there is also nothing wrong or disappointing with the film. It does stretch the boundaries of a sports movie, but when the film does not even mention that two players won the American League MVP and Cy Young awards during the season, is it really that much of a sports movie? Overall Moneyball is good entertainment. It reminded me why baseball was so exciting to be growing up. I liked the film, but I just did not see any reason to love it.

My rating: 3 stars out of 4.

1 comment:

  1. Oh my dear dear friend. Now that I've had a chance to actually sit down and watch this I have to say...FOUL BALL! This film missed the mark for me on so many points I feel like I've been running the bases only to find that everyone went home while I was rounding second! While the story itself is quite interesting I think that too much time was spent addressing Beane's own failed baseball career. In addition if the film had ended with some sort of hopeful outcome for the lead I think perhaps it would have been easier to swallow. Unfortunately the film had slow pacing throughout, a bit of a meandering plot line, and a badly managed ending.

    For me this was utterly disappointing. Much like the outcome of that season for the A's...

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