Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Moneyball



It’s October, which means MLB playoffs are underway. It also means it’s an excellent time to see Moneyball, the new movie about Billy Beane, sabermetrics and how the two combine to make a baseball team.

Based on Michael Lewis’s Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, Moneyball is adapted for the screen by Steven Zaillian and, my main man, Aaron Sorkin, with a story credit for Stan Chervin. (Reportedly, Sorkin punched up Zillian’s script, bringing the funny - just like Sam and Josh did for the correspondents’ dinner!) After gestating for many years and going through several growing pains, Moneyball finally makes its way to the big screen, directed by Bennett Miller and starring Brad Pitt, who is also a producer.

(Warning: For those unfamiliar with baseball history, the following description may contain spoilers.)

The story begins with the Oakland A’s losing the ALDS in 2001 to the New York Yankees (who would go on to lose the World Series to the Arizona Diamondbacks, but I don’t like to dwell on that). Beane (Brad Pitt), the team’s general manager (GM), is justifiably upset, but he brushes the dirt off his shoulder and starts trying to put a team together for the following season.

While in Cleveland attempting to secure a trade, he meets the (fictionalized) Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a wunderkind statistician who has read Bill James’s Baseball Abstract books, in which James lays out the foundation for sabermetrics. Brand convinces Beane that he and his scouts are looking at the wrong thing while assembling their team (and trying to replace superstar players - Jason Giambi, Jason Isringhausen and Johnny Damon - who have been traded). By following Brand’s stats, Beane assembles an underdog team, and throughout the rest of the film we watch the A’s season (coached by an effective Philip Seymour Hoffman as Coach Art Howe), which included an MLB record-making 20-game winning streak.

It’s intriguing to watch, and it plays out like a baseball game: slow and methodical, with spurts of action and stretches of “working-the-mound” strategy. Of course, I thrilled over certain dialogue. As a certified Sorkinese expert, I was able to pick out the zingers penned by the talented Mr. Sorkin. The film is directed with great affection for the story and the game, and non-baseball fans, parents especially, will enjoy the father-daughter relationship arc between Beane and his daughter.

All the performances are strong. Many people are impressed by Jonah Hill, finally giving the wiseacre act a rest and simply being the character. It’s interesting to watch his Brand slowly but surely pick up various affects of his mentor, Beane. As Beane, Pitt gives one of his best performances to date. There’s no grandstanding, he looks worn and for a moment you forget he’s one of the world’s biggest and most watched movie stars.

But, dear readers, I was actually most impressed with Chris Pratt’s turn as Scott Hatteberg, an out of work catcher who is plucked to be the A’s first-baseman. I know Pratt, mostly, from Parks and Recreation, on which he plays a simple, small town guy, best known for saying things like, “Awesome-sauce!” In Moneyball, he appears trim and appropriately hungry for the win. Like Hill, he leaves behind the sight gags and “please-laugh-at-me” mugging. It’s a subtle, nuanced performance that just might be a breakthrough for the actor.

You needn’t be a baseball fan to enjoy this movie. As Peter Travers of Rolling Stone says, Moneyball is about baseball like The Social Network is about Facebook. That is to say that baseball and Facebook were simply the vehicles through which stories of human interaction were told.

Bonuses:
And finally, since we're talking baseball, play ball!

1 comment:

  1. The film is bound for with great affection for the story and the game, and non-baseball fans, parents particularly, oakland ballet tickets will enjoy the father-daughter connection arc flanked by Beane and his daughter.

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