Friday, October 07, 2011


I actually saw this one last week but I've been in mourning for my NY Yankees and their pitiful attempt to stay in the playoff  race. Watching this movie I felt even worse about my Yankees as the filmmakers gleefully pointed out the discrepancy every time they play a poor team and the Yankees win it's a glaring reminder that they are the haves and almost every other team is the have-nots. The film didn't pull its punches it basically starts out where the A's won the first two playoff games and then stumbled and collapsed and lost the series with the graphic showing: Yankees 140 million; Oakland Athletics 40 million. Ouch, the game does start to take on a different meaning when you can see the problem in stark black and white. But I don't disagree, there is one thing I despise about the Steinbrenners and about the team I love, in a nutshell, the Yankees are a spoiled rotten rich team that has lost it's blue collar roots and become something else entirely. But that's a post for a different time. Let's talk about some Moneyball!
This is the movie based on the book, based on the true story about the General Manager of the Oakland A's Billy Beane (Brad Pitt). This takes place in the early 2000's and they get right into the impossibly tough business of acquiring top talent to play for a ball club. The Oakland A's have a pretty miniscule budget compared to most teams especially the Yankees and the Red Sox. After coming off of a heartbreaking ALDS game against the Yankees, Beane finds himself against a wall as he is about to lose his two prime players. Jason Giambi to the Yankees and Johnny Damon to the Red Sox. Owner Stephen Schott seems like a good guy but he's unwilling or unable to give Billy what he needs to replace the two super stars. So Bean is forced to think outside of the box to get results with little to no money. He buys a smart nerd analyst from the Cleveland Indians, Peter Brand (Jonah Hill). Brand explains Sabermetrics. Created by number cruncher Bill James. This guy was not a baseball person so he was pretty much laughed at by Owners, Scouts and the players alike. But his idea was that you analyze a player through objective, imperical evidence and you can find value in a player where most top teams see red flags. I know it seems like a lot of exposition but in this case it's important to understand at least a little bit about the complexities of the system and why it was so crucial to Bean and Brand as they tried to rebuild the Oakland A's into a championship worthy team.
This was truly an incredible film, from the acting to the writing to the pacing. We weave in and out to see a young Billy Beane faced with the decision to go to College or go to the Major League. You can feel his frustration as he tries to fight a system he just cannot win no matter what he does. It was also really great to go in the dugout and see how the team was reacting to what Beane was trying to do. The guy playing David Justice (Stephen Bishop) was pretty great and from the little I know of Justice he seemed to fit the persona well. I also really liked Chris Pratt as Scott Hatteberg, I can't fathom how frustrating and difficult it must have been to have to switch from being catcher to first base, the kid had a lot of heart. This isn't like a lot of underdog stories. You keep waiting and hoping that even if Beane doesn't win it all he will somehow gain the respect of his peers. I won't go into too much detail but if you follow baseball at all then you already know how this turns out. But that really isn't the point. It's that he tried to do something that no one else was willing to try, and it wasn't just using it whenever he needed to. He decided if he was going to follow this system he was going to follow it with every ounce of energy he could regardless of what the Coach, Art Howe (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), thought, regardless what the players thought. It's a noble thing and it's quite an amazing thing to see, especially if you are a true fan of Baseball.
Now I never read the book but I did feel that the movie probably gave Beane a bit more credit then he deserved. Yes I understand they are telling a narrative here and the facts don't necessarily have to add up perfectly. The man was certainly a pioneer and once the Red Sox started using it and won a World Series you can't deny that Beane had some small part to play in that. But at the same time Sabermetrics has been around a long time and it really is Bill James and his program that made all of this possible. Plain and simple. There is also a twinge of arrogance to the screenplay that is a tad unnecessary. I love me some Sorkin as my previous posts can attest to. But sometimes he can write with this "holier than thou" attitude that can distract from the overall story at times. Also not sure why Robin Wright was in this movie. She plays Billy's ex-wife and her scenes were really awkward. Maybe that was supposed to be that way but they were so small, I'm still scratching my head as to why she took that part. But regardless of these flaws in the film it's still phenomenal and I certainly put it high in the pantheon of baseball movies. So if you want to see a film that truly seems to love and appreciate the myth and majesty of baseball then this is your movie, don't miss it.
Grade: 4 Buckets

No comments: