Review: Moneyball

Posted September 23rd, 2011 at 5:15 pm

Moneyball is based on the true story of Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane and the revolutionary way he began to make personnel decisions in 2002. Adapted from the novel written by Michael Lewis, who also penned the highest grossing sports-themed movie of all time with The Blind Side, it has all the elements of a big hit except it is less reliant on making a powerful emotional attachment. Instead it trades that for a general theme of touting the underdogs and a reliance on statistics and analysis. That makes Moneyball an interesting film but one that will be more limited in its appeal. 

Brad Pitt stars as Beane and does a fantastic job of portraying the day-to-day struggles of a man who is under pressure to put together a winner but doesn’t have the funding that large market teams receive. His performance is subtle but very effective, as is Jonah Hill who plays understated well – an improvement on the hyper-active roles with which he has started to wear thin. Hill plays Peter Brand, a Yale economics graduate who helps implement the new system and way of thinking as Beane’s assistant GM.

Taking on the idea of imperfect players and rounding them into a successful team works well in the sense that the audience roots for them. Beane also comes across as charismatic and being in the underdog role it is fun to watch him strive for success and painful to see the low moments that are experienced along the way.

One doesn’t have to be a baseball fan or even a sports fan to appreciate and enjoy the film. While the baseball scenes are well shot – and interspersed with real life footage – the focus is instead on what is happening behind the scenes. For someone like myself that is fascinated by all of that it was really interesting to see. Everything from the analyzing of statistics and watching tape, to discussing player moves with scouts, notifying players of being cut or traded, attempting trades with other GMs, or talking about the state of the team with the owner – all were handled really well and allowed to play out without being rushed.

There is also the inclusion of flashbacks to Beane’s past as a highly-touted prospect who busted in the majors. That gives good perspective into his current thinking and creates some conflict with the traditional scouting system – providing perspective on why he would be more likely to buck that system and try something new.

The 2002 A’s are remembered for their impressive regular season run after a slow start – including a record-breaking win streak. Unfortunately they didn’t advance out of the divisional round of the playoffs and to many that dampens the importance of the message and whether “moneyball” actually made the impact that some claim it has. Elements of it however have become the norm in evaluating players league wide so it has at least influenced the sport and that makes the drive to prove it successful in the film worthwhile to watch evolve.

For everything I appreciated in how Moneyball was made (script, acting, pacing, score) nothing really pushed it beyond just being a film with a number of elements that I admired. I really liked liked it but ultimately didn’t love it. It’s hard to pinpoint why that is exactly – maybe it was the more thin angle having to do with Beane’s family or how the events of a lengthy baseball season are difficult to compress into a short period of time without making certain reactions seem more dramatic than they would be otherwise. Regardless I walked away from the movie thinking something was missing but that could just be because it doesn’t take the traditional crowd-pleasing turn and instead has a few moments of more subdued success to rally around.

Moneyball is a great display of how to translate a story that wouldn’t have been thought suitable to become a film and make it a compelling watch. The characters and events are interesting even if it doesn’t take the typical arc – though in a sense that makes it all the more fascinating to see develop. It’s a film appreciated for what it attempts and what it ultimately accomplishes though it may not fully connect on an emotional level.

Rating: ★★★★☆