Movie of the Week: Moneyball

Having not read the book it’s based upon and having been familiar with the going-ons of baseball during the years covered, I still found Moneyball relatively enjoyable (note I said “still”).

I thought Brad Pitt gave a solid performance as Billy Beane, the Oakland A’s general manager who was trying to make the most of this budget. Pitt is one of those actors who you can never forget who you are watching. It’s not like Capote where Philip Seymour Hoffman (who was wasted in this movie as A’s coach, Art Howe) transformed into Truman Capote. When you see Brad Pitt in a movie, you’re getting a version of Brad Pitt that isn’t too far from the base (“It’s Brad Pitt with a long beard!” “It’s Brad Pitt with a funny accent!” “It’s Brad Pitt as a 50-year-old guy who’s really 20 who looks 30!” 1). That said, Pitt as Beane was pretty entertaining. Not necessarily an Oscar-worthy performance but they are desperate to give him one so this might be his chance.

Jonah Hill was able to tone it down to play Peter Brand , the young Yale Economics graduate who helps Beane find the formulas by which to assemble his team of “misfits toys.” He has a good back and forth with Pitt, particularly the best scene of the movie where Beane wheels and deals other general managers while trying to acquire a reliever late in the season.

I thought the scenes of them actually playing baseball were mostly horrible. The low-budget nature of film really showed in those scenes. They had money for one big stadium scene and the rest looked like it was filmed at a batting cage. Also, we kept seeing shots of these batters getting on base (which was the basis of Beane and Brand’s plan in the film) but we never see how this translated into scoring runs. I know how they scored runs but that’s because I watched baseball back then but it wasn’t clear in the movie.

Another problem I had with this movie was the length. It was over two hours which isn’t necessarily a problem but there were so many scenes where nothing happened and it wasn’t adding anything to the movie except time. I lost count of how many scenes there were of Pitt just driving in his car, sometimes listening to the radio, sometimes there were just close-ups of his face, but they were all a waste of time.

Okay, let’s talk about that “still.” This movie drove the baseball fan in me crazy. Yes, it was crucial that the A’s had guys with high on-base percentages like Scott Hatteberg (Chris Pratt who was pretty great) and David Justice (Stephen Bishop) who they could get on the cheap but the movie completely ignores the fact they had Miguel Tejada and Eric Chavez who both hit over 30 HRS and drove in more than 100 RBIs. More importantly, they had one of, if not the, best starting pitching lineup in the American League that year with Tim Hudson, Barry Zito and Mark Mulder. Tejada won the AL MVP that year, Zito the Cy Young. The movie would have you believe the reason the A’s won 103 games was because Hatteberg and Justice could draw walks.

I understand movies need villains. You can’t root for someone if there isn’t someone to root against. I didn’t like how the scouts were made to look less than competent. Yes, they weren’t quick to change with the times but they helped build that winning team too. Art Howe (Hoffman) was also treated like someone who didn’t know how to do his job. I actually felt bad for Howe. As it’s depicted in the film, Beane and Brand sprung this strategy on him without consulting and, when he wouldn’t acquiesce to their plans, they forced his hand by releasing and trading players. There’s a scene where Brand scoffs when he hears a reporter on television give Howe credit for the A’s turnaround and success. While it wasn’t 100% accurate, Howe still deserved represented in a way that reflected his contribution to that season.

1 Guess these movies.

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