A Brief Moneyball Review (about its content, not baseball stuff)

Let’s get this out of the way: there are plenty of reviews about Moneyball right now. I’m not writing this because I feel the need to express myself, but because there were a few things I think some reviews missed.

First off, it’s a very good movie. It’s not particularly accurate, but it’s a well-told story. All of Moneyball, from the Sandy Alderson A’s to the Billy Beane years, is condensed into one season. Alderson isn’t mentioned. The idea is that Moneyball didn’t exist as a concept until Beane hired Fake Paul Depodesta (Peter Brand, played by Jonah Hill) from Cleveland. If you have serious problems with this, don’t go see the movie.

What probably should’ve happened was renaming all of the characters except Beane. Scouts particularly don’t look good in this, but they serve a very important purpose: what Beane was doing was going completely against the grain. The book had it because Lewis couldn’t describe sufficiently the different levels of team building and so took it out on the scouts; the movie had it because there wasn’t enough time to expand on the universal nature conventional team building in the game. For that, I forgive it.

The movie does pound away at how different this concept is from anything anybody had done before. Whether or not that’s true is irrelevant because it’s the crux of the story. At some point, Beane and Peter Brand have to be completely alone to further the story and the director Bennett Something and Brad Pitt did a great job of isolating Beane from the rest of the universe, including Peter Brand who’s the person Beane brings into his universe. There are many beautiful shots of empty stadiums, Oakland more than others, and Beane sitting in the seats by himself. There’s one scene in particular in which Beane is standing at the Oakland Coliseum watching the game, frustrated again, and Brand sees him. Brand is seeing the game by himself as well. Brand doesn’t say hi because they’re both separated by distance in a swarm of people–who would warmly embrace them if they knew who they were. But they don’t because the GM and assistant GM are mostly anonymous pencil pushers.

The story tends to amble a bit, but for a purpose, not unlike Catcher in the Rye. This sets up the ending which I won’t spoil for you but does draw some interesting questions out of the story. What’s the point? Why are they doing this if their success is only the ALDS? The philosophy of the story winds up right there in the heart of the ending: this isn’t about money–and dang it if the guy who played John Henry didn’t absolutely nail the monologue at the end–it’s about finding success in places where success isn’t supposed to be. It’s about creating something that defies convention and, of course, finding the market inefficiences. As Beane says in the movie, it’s hard not to get romantic about baseball.

Naturally there’s going to be shortcuts taken when a book is adapted into a movie and Moneyball is no different–but Moneyball did a few things perfectly. Beane does drive around the parking lot in circles–and instead of laughing, you feel his frustration. He also works out (alone) while the game is on and occasionally unmutes it at the opportune times to hear “A-Rod has scored again for the Rangers, making it 6-0 in Oakland,” and so on. Pitt’s acting carries these moments.

Brand, though he’s definitely not Paul Depodesta, is the perfect combination of numbers guy and MLB-office rube. Though he’s got some bright ideas, it’s clear he doesn’t have an understanding on the social relationships required to handle the job. It’s a stereotype, sure, but like other things in this story, it serves a purpose: Brand is us. We’re getting a sexy look into the behind the scenes of running a major league baseball team and it’s kind of horrifying. There’s a lot of frustration. There’s a lot of anger. There’s very little support and a lot of criticism. There’s a lot of emotions for a position that’s supposed to be void of it. It freaks Peter out a bit and he apologizes a few times for things he shouldn’t apologize for
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On top of all of this is the cinematography and directing, where there’s these gorgeous shots with low stadium lighting in slow motion. They’re there to remind us that these guys are doing what Brand thought they’d be doing and this is why they’re undervalued. That although there’s some self-doubt and lots of questions from this new mode of team building, they’re ultimately right and it takes some time to prove it. It all culminates with Scotty H. doing his thing on Game 20 and it’s beautiful.

Keith Law had a lot of complaints about the movie. A good deal of them were correct, some were wrong, but the one I disagree with the most is that the story doesn’t work when the movie can’t decide to be a character construct of Beane and a story about the Oakland A’s. I can see where he gets that, but the story works because of its ending; the character of Beane works for the story; and the movie as a whole was very, very good.

Definitely go see it. You won’t regret it.

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1 Comment

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One response to “A Brief Moneyball Review (about its content, not baseball stuff)

  1. It may not feel quite like the classic baseball movie others have achieved, but it’s certainly pleasant enough to be enjoyable even by non-sports fan, and features great performances from Hill and Pitt. Good review. Check out mine when you get a chance.

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