Although Moneyball is set in the baseball home office, the message it conveys is one of revolution, and the difficulties that true rebels face at every turn.
We also learn that America’s pastime is deeply entrenched in its own history, and that changing the game can be painful for those trying to alter it.
Brad Pitt, channeling a 1970s-era Robert Redford, plays Billy Beane, who is still general manager of the Oakland A’s in real life. Jonah Hill, channeling Twinkies, plays Peter Brand, Pitt’s numbercrunching assistant.
Brand’s unique, mathematic approach to the game is perfect for Beane’s cash-strapped A’s franchise, which loses a handful of its stars to free agency following the 2001 season. Using Brand’s new methods, the two assemble a team that shouldn’t win (according to baseball’s classic player analysis format) but does, rankling the entire baseball order, from scouting to fielding.
Based on the book by the same name, this smart picture is sharply written and superbly acted. It’s so well written that I found myself practically taking dictation when looking for quotable moments.
Hill manages to shake the gross-out stereotype he earned in Superbad. Pitt, meanwhile, outgrows his pretty-boy persona, flying into several convincing, slow-boil rages here that leave office desks and water coolers in pieces. Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who is set to appear in every movie until 2019 if we believe the trailers, believably plays hapless coach Art Howe, who rejects the math-based take on the game forced upon him.
The full business side of baseball is excellently dramatized here, best exemplified by the cool exchange that transpires when Brand pulls aside Carlos Pena (Adrian Bellani) to notify him that he’s been traded. Meanwhile, difficult baseball management decisions are in the spotlight when Beane pulls aside another player to inform him that he’s being sent to the minor leagues.
Another time-honored baseball tradition on full display here: chewing tobacco. Most every character hacks into a spit cup at least once in Moneyball, even the moms and pets.
From the presentation of the old guard staunchly defending its ways (scouts basing talent partially on looks) to the run-down brick and mortar of old stadiums like Oakland Coliseum and Fenway Park, the romantic notion of baseball is constantly disassembled in this movie. It’s fitting that Brand’s office is adorned with several posters of the Clash, the punk band that helped tear apart rock music in the '70s.
At the end of the film, we finally grasp the enormity of what Beane has accomplished: Stats now rule the game. The romantic notion of the game of baseball is just a notion.
“We’re not going to pay $17 million for players.” – A’s owner
“Baseball thinking is medieval.” – Brand
“It’s an unfair game.” – Beane on baseball economics
“You don’t put a team together with a computer.” – A’s scout Grady Fuson
“Don’t go on the Internet, watch TV, read newspapers or talk to people.” – Beane to his daughter, who is worried he’ll lose his job.
“It’s hard not to be romantic about baseball.” – Beane to Brand.
Other observations at the cinema:
- Speaking of revolutions: This week at a conference for my real job I realized that I take better notes on my mobile device than I do on a paper notepad. So I brought the mobile to the theater. Ten minutes into this movie I was asked by an usher to stop using my phone, as it was distracting to the other moviegoers. I explained that I was reviewing it, and I was allowed to continue using it from the last seat in the last row. My apologies to those I was distracting.
- For the third week in a row, I’ve heard the line “What if I told you that Shakespeare never wrote a single word?” during the preview for Anonymous. I’ve heard it so many times that this English major is starting to believe it. Don’t tell Dr. Arnesen.
- Everyone in Hollywood will soon appear in New Year’s Eve and The Ides of March. Are we seeing a return to the all-star cast movies of the ‘70s and ‘80s like The Cannonball Run? And why hasn’t anyone remade that classic yet?
- Smartly done commercials can even make Kia cars look fun.
- Clooney for president! (The Ides of March)
- I never heard the initials IMF (International Monetary Fund) mentioned in a movie (much less a trailer) until today. I was thinking someone had finally made an economic thriller until Tom Cruise’s face appeared. I was so disappointed that the mention of the IMF was for Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.