Moneyball

I really enjoyed Moneyball, despite Brad Pitt. Granted, he does a nice job with this film and he produced it, but all I see when I see him in movies these days is Brad Pitt. I think he has more than one acting crutch and I’m frankly tired of it.

But Moneyball is a very enjoyable film. Even if you are not into baseball, you might enjoy it too. Here’s a preview:


The deets:

Released September 23, 2011

Written by Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin, Stan Chervin, based on a book by Michael Lewis

Directed by Bennett Miller

Starring Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and Robin Wright

*     *     *     *     *

Moneyball is not your normal film. There is no doubt that serious MLB fans will get more out of this movie than regular movie-goers. That is not to say that Moneyball cannot be enjoyed by a person who doesn’t like baseball– the acting and premise are engaging. However, Brad Pitt aside, it’s a movie about baseball. And it doesn’t have any explosions and the only running done is around a baseball diamond.

Also, it’s based on true events, so the film can’t go too far afield from what really happened with this baseball team.

Story

Moneyball is the story of how Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), the general manager of the Oakland Athletics, essentially changes how baseball teams recruit and build teams. The film begins as the Athletics (the As) lose a game that puts them out of the race for a championship. Their three top talents, Isringhausen, Giambi, and Damon, are immediately picked up by teams with deep pockets, leaving Beane with a massive hole in his team and very little (relatively) money to fill the hole.

Beane goes about looking for some trades he can do with other teams, and during one team visit, he notices the general manager of the team seems to defer to a portly, bespectacled fellow. This is Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), and he is essentially a stats wizard. And either he loves baseball or he loves that baseball is full of immense numbers of stats. Brand describes a different way to recruit– one that essentially spends money on getting on base and scoring runs. This approach doesn’t care about big names or talent; it cares about aggregating a bunch of players who have enough skills to out-hit and out-score their opponents collectively.

Thus, the story moves forward, exploring the pains of trying out a new system in a game with a rich and staid set of traditions

Critique

Beane is a quick convert to Brand’s system. In fact, he buys in so completely and thoroughly, so very fast, that this is one of my major problems with this movie. Beane immediately throws his weight around, alienating his scouts and his team’s coach. They don’t agree with this new approach, and Beane never cares to take the time to explain it. But he sure has no doubt about the new system. Why? Where did this conviction come from?

This instant buy-in is motivated by the story’s needs, somewhat, but apparently it required no soul-searching from Beane. I didn’t want a montage of him staring off into sunsets, but I sure wanted to see a conflict in the guy.

Of course the system gets off to a rocky start. Of course the system finally starts picking up steam. You want the As to win the pennant and the World Series. The reality of history has different ideas, and that’s fine.

This movie is understated, interesting, and overall pretty entertaining. Billy Beane’s character is uninteresting, though. We don’t see conflict. We see he is divorced, dotes on his daughter, and he drives a truck. We don’t see any inner conflict. We find out that he has a history of being highly picked in the baseball draft but having not panned out with his abilities. Maybe I’m speaking for only myself, but I’m not sure why we saw all of that. Brad Pitt plays Beane as.. well.. Brad Pitt. He eats throughout the movie (seriously?), clenches his jaw just so, sticks his tongue out when thinking, and does some pretty basic method acting.

I’m tired of it.

And this movie needed to explore Billy Beane more. We needed to see his inner conflict, if there was any. We needed to see WHY. Why did he do a 180 and essentially betray the traditions he had been a part of for so long? Throughout the entire movie, Beane espouses the philosophy and position that the only game that matters is the last one. He wants to win a championship. But if that’s really what’s important to him, why does he make the final decision that he does? Looking back, I want to fill in motivation, but that’s me artificially inserting my own guesses into the film in hindsight. The movie does not take care of this basic issue, and for that, it failed.

Otherwise, the movie is nicely written and well acted. Jonah Hill does a nice job as Peter Brand. He has some very enjoyable moments as he is thrust deeply into the world of assistant general manager of a professional baseball team. Phillip Hoffman also turns in a nice effort as the coach of the team. He is surly and irritated that Brand won’t give him a longer contract and that Brand is essentially trying to steal his job and manage the team himself.

There are some outstandingly funny moments, mostly due to excellent comedic timing on Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill’s part. All in all, Moneyball is an effective and engaging film. But the lack of inner conflict grated. Really, why doesn’t Beane attend the games? Why didn’t he do well as a player? We never really know. The problem is in the script and also in Brad Pitt’s generally opaque acting.

What’s more, Brad Pitt will almost certainly get an Oscar nom for this movie. When that happens, all that faith I have long lost in the Academy will be doubly lost.

Content warnings: Plenty of profanity. No violence beyond angry demonstrativeness. Nothing sexual.

Writing: 3          Acting: 3.5          Overall: 3.5

Don’t believe me? See if my review matches those on Rotten Tomatoes.

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About jared

Jared Garrett works as a writer, the manager of a program development department in the corporate world, and an instructional designer. He is a family man with an adorable, fun, and way-too-smart wife, six silly kids, a new house with an overgrown back yard, seven fish, and a bunch of chickens. He has written fiction, user manuals, SEO copy, radio scripts and textbooks and has won first place in the Mayhew writing contest at BYU and received honorable mention in the Writers of the Future contest. He lives at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains and is currently seeking representation for his myriad completed novels.
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