Moneyball (Bennett Miller) 2011
Moneyball is based on the book which deals with real life Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane (here played by Brad Pitt). Beane’s Athletics are one of the lowest payroll teams in baseball and things get bad when Johnny Damon, Jason Giambi, and Jason Isringhausen (three all stars) are bought out for way more money by the bigger teams. Faced with the impossible task of rebuilding he is interested by the ideas of a nerdish assistant Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) who believes he can manipulate the system using statistics and not money. By getting players with good on base percentages and ignoring any other irrelevant issues which drive down their prices, they can make a winning team without spending as much as the Yankees.
I wish trailers flat out told me Aaron Sorkin (WestWing, Social Network, Few Good Men) wrote this movie. That to me is a bigger selling point than anything else. I’m being serious here. The man has done such great work his name means more to me than Brad Pitt or millions of dollars in special effects. I am getting ahead of myself though.
I went into more detail my feelings about sports movies in my Warrior review so I won’t really harp on it too much again right now. Suffice it to say, you don’t need to be a baseball fan in order to see Moneyball. True this is based on what some call a nerd book about fantasy baseball and outlines a historic moment in the game of baseball, but that is not the only thing in this movie. At the heart of the story it is an inspirational story about an underdog, about innovation, and about a personal story. The first two kind of go together in that Beane was essentially fighting the ‘old guard‘ who had their preconceived notion of how to build baseball teams and that there was no other possible way to do it. It took a lot of effort and, well, balls on the part of Beane to go all in with his plan. He was fighting with just about everyone’s philosophy on what baseball is and was putting his career on the line.
This also rolls into the ending which I was discussing with friends after we finished seeing it. I guess I will warn spoilers although I don’t feel I’m spoiling anything with history. After all, do I need to say SPOILER ALERT: the Titanic sinks at the end of Titanic. We were discussing about how the ending does not slap any false sentimentality or try to manufacture some big win to end on a high note. Beane’s Athletic’s lose in the playoffs, and he is the first one to shit on the idea he broke some record or something because winning a ring matters. But this is tempered by the fact Beane really wins in the big picture. His way of doing business has changed the game and others have used the model successfully.
What really sells this movie are the writing, the characters, and the actors. Brad Pitt does a fantastic job as Beane as he has to do some rather difficult work. Watching the movie it seems like Beane is a charming guy but if you think about it, a lot of other actors could really screw it up. Beane is an emotional guy who is a cutthroat businessman and doesn’t care who he steps on in order to see things through. One scene (ANOTHER SPOILER ALERT) is when the manager won’t field the players he wants and Beane trades away all those players (all stars included) until the manager relents. In another actor’s hands, he could really be seen as a megolomaniacal dick but with Pitt and the writing it takes on a better tone. Even Jonah Hill, who I pretty much hate in any other movie, is fun in this movie too. This is due to the face he isn’t playing Jonah Hill and has a toned down performance. He and Pitt have great chemistry as they can throw subtle one liners at one another instead of Hill usually hamming it up.
But as alluded to earlier, my real love of this movie is with the writing. This movie is funnier than the majority of comedies out there today, which is even more embarassing since Moneyball isn’t a comedy. The dialog is so witty and charming and unlike say Diablo Cody or Kevin Smith, doesn’t call attention to itself. Everyone is their own unique character and they just feel like people you would want to hang out with instead of long monologues with pop culture references. I don’t know why I’m hatin on Smith or even Cody since I, for the most part, like their stuff. I guess it is to highlight how much Sorkin does it better.
I’ve read some reviews which bring up the fact this movie was originally to be directed by Steven Soderbergh. This is used as a negative to imply that with Soderbergh this would have been a classic. For that matter you might as well compare The Social Network (also penned by Sorkin) to compare since they have similarities in story. In a way I can see where they are coming from. There isn’t much in the way of flashy direction to spice things up and most of the scenes are talky scenes. There are also some…less than necessary stuff such as Beane’s relationship with his ex (played by Robin Wright). But that being said, I don’t see it as that big of a criticism. Director Miller knew what the strengths of this movie were which is the writing and the acting and he highlights those. Pitt and Hill are fun as hell as their characters and they deliver wonderful dialog and that is where the charm of the movie is. While he may have done a little more, I’m not really going to fault him for trying too hard and screwing up something already great. Moneyball is one of my favorites of this year so far and I recommend to baseball fans and not baseball fans alike.