Moneyball (2011)


I do expect movies based on real events to take some liberties with the truth, I understand that the real story may not be as entertaining as it could so it needs to be tweaked to sell it to a wide audience. That being said, as someone who followed the sport of baseball while this was all going on, it does gloss over some really important aspects of Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) and his tenure as general manager of the poor Oakland Athletics. The film makes you think Beane and his newly poached head of stats (Jonah Hill) stumbled onto some magic on-base potion that all other clubs were ignoring. This was sort of true. Beane did get an awful lot out of undervalued stats like on-base percentage. It also helped that he had three of the best pitchers in the league as part of his starting rotation. The film glosses over this fact and makes you think their success was largely due to Chris Pratt and his baulky legs that could still take a walk better than most. I’m not saying this didn’t help, but the fact the A’s had Tim Hudson, Barry Zito and Mark Mulder starting games for them three out of every five nights had quite a lot to do with it too. In fact, they entered a down period following Beane’s decision to trade them away, so you could argue they were more important than any statistical genius Beane may have been privy too. Like I said before, I completely understand that some liberties need to be taken, but I just wanted to clear things up that the genius of Beane and his rotund statistician certainly helped, but they were not alone. In no way does this detract from the film as a whole, I really enjoyed it and it was cool to see some of the back room deals that go on in the game. Many of the films that showcase the sport of baseball are mainly dedicated to the players and the front office machinations are largely ignored. It was refreshing to get some insight into this world.

As I mentioned earlier, Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane, general manager of the Oakland Athletics. After the 2001 season, the A’s said goodbye to several of their star players. Many people doubted that they could get back to the postseason after the stars they lost. Beane has the challenge of building a team with a limited payroll while still remaining competitive. He ends up poaching Peter Brand (Jonah Hil) from a rival club and together they search for a way to get cheap players that can still be major league players. His scouts are stuck in the old school way of thinking that says a players need to hit home runs to be successful, but Brand convinces Beane that getting on base is more important and he begins signing undervalued players that can get on base. The rest of the story is similar to most sports movies, this team of misfits defy the odds and end up playing well after some adversity, obviously.

I hope my first paragraph didn’t make it seem like what Beane did was not important. He really did change the way people thought about the game. In the years that followed, every club hired a statistician and used their know how to help form their ball clubs. Beane has shown himself to be quite inventive when it comes to looking for undervalued, or underutilised, stats in baseball. Recently he has filled his squad with power hitters and good defenders, because that was now the stat being undersold. It has worked, the A’s have been to the playoffs the past few years, and Beane has some of the best job security in the game, something not common for front office types in baseball. He is able to remain competitive while working on a shoestring budget, which as a fan of the Colorado Rockies, I can tell you that is very hard to do at all, let alone with the consistency Beane manages to.

I realised I have spent most of this review talking about the real life events than the actual movie. I have a lot of time for Brad Pitt. I think he is one of the most underrated actors working in Hollywood today. I expect him to be great, and he is. He got an Oscar nomination for his trouble. The biggest surprise for me is Jonah Hill. At the time Moneyball was released, Hill was largely known as the fat kid from Superbad or one of James Franco’s stoner buddies. Hill also earned an Oscar nod for his work in Moneyball, something he would repeat in Wolf of Wall Street. I never thought I would see the day when Jonah Hill would be a multiple time Oscar nominee. He totally deserves it though. Hill is great as the nerdy stats guy Beane takes under his wing.

I really enjoyed Moneyball. It gives you an insight into a rarely seen side of professional sports, sold really well by Brad Pitt and an all-star cast.

Rating: B-

On paper, I should not like this movie. For starters, it’s about baseball. Ben may be a huge fan, but I’m not. Secondly, it’s about math. Statistics and percentages and… I’m yawning just thinking about it. And yet, I really enjoy watching Moneyball.

It took me awhile to pinpoint why I like this movie so much. The sports movies I most love (A League of Their Own, The Sandlot, Miracle) have more to do with life outside the game than the game itself. Moneyball doesn’t fit this criteria at all. It’s all about baseball, albeit what happens behind the scenes between owners, managers, coaches, and players. But this unvarnished look into the Oakland A’s organization is intriguing to me, partially because it shows those involved with little gloss or nostalgia.

Moneyball follows A’s general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) during the team’s record breaking 2002 season. Oakland was handicapped by its limited payroll, forcing Beane to get creative while putting together a team. He turned to Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), an economics grad who believes that baseball’s scouting methods are all wrong. Brand helped Beane assemble a team of undervalued “misfits” based almost entirely on their on-base percentages. The 2002 Oakland A’s go on to break the America League’s consecutive wins record, but fall short of winning the playoffs.

You won’t see much baseball action in this movie. It’s a lot of talking and off field negotiations, but it is so fun to watch. Pitt is excellent, going from calm professionalism to explosive anger sometimes in the same scene. Jonah Hill also shines, holding his own against more experienced talent like Pitt and Philip Seymour Hoffman. It’s hard to believe this is the same kid who starred in Superbad.

But for me, Moneyball is best when it’s dealing with the realities of professional sports. Success in athletics is far from a sure thing, and this film doesn’t shy away from this. The main sub-plot deals with Beane’s own career, which started as a promising first round draft and ended with less glorious stints playing for farm teams before transitioning to jobs off the field. We’re also given glimpses into other players’ lives, those without million dollar contracts who worry that they might not be playing next season or if an injury is going to end their career. At the very least it makes you stop and think– if your child was offered a huge paycheck to play professional sports, would you urge them to take it or advise them to go to college?

Of course, I can’t end this review without mentioning that Billy Beane (the real one, not the Brad Pitt one) attended the same high school I did, his time overlapping a bit with some of my older relatives. It was pretty cool seeing a Mt Carmel High School baseball uniform on the big screen all the way in Sydney.

Rating: A-

2 thoughts on “Moneyball (2011)

  1. Pingback: Mr. 3000 (2004) | From The Abyss to Zoolander

  2. Pingback: Beginners (2010) | From The Abyss to Zoolander

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