DVD Review - Moneyball

I've had Moneyball in my Netflix queue since it was released on DVD back in January. It was the only one of the nine Oscar nominees for Best Picture this year that I hadn't seen. Being that April is the start of baseball season, I suppose it's fortuitous that I would get this movie in the mail now. After seeing it, I definitely got why it received all the recognition it did, but, despite all its Oscar nods, the film won zero awards and I definitely get that too. It's a well made and well acted piece, but, I didn't understand what the point was.

Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland Athletics. It's the fall of 2001 and Oakland has just been beaten by the New York Yankees. Billy meets Peter Brand, played by Jonah Hill. Peter is a Yale graduate who studied economics. Peter challenges Billy to think differently about how he chooses players and where they should be placed. Instead of going off your gut or off superficial things like how ugly the player's girlfriend is, which are the tactics that the old recruiters and managers use, Peter challenges Billy to use math, in this case sabermetrics, although I'm not sure that the word sabermetrics is ever uttered in this film.

Sabermetrics basically analyzes baseball statistics beyond the way they normally have. It goes beyond just looking at batting averages, RBIs and number of home runs. It delves deeper and really refines a player's performance. The way that sabermetrics is introduced though makes it seem like it's a magic formula designed by Peter. The problem is that, even if that were the case, which it isn't, we're never privy to what that formula is. Director Bennett Miller just rapidly flashes equations, numbers and line graphs on the screen and expects us to accept it. We're given such a cursory glance at sabermetrics as to almost render it pointless in this story.

The chief beef from Billy is that Oakland doesn't have enough money as New York, so it isn't able to fight a fair fight. The one thing I didn't understand about this beef was whether or not Billy were intimating that money, such as a player's salary for example, was a reflection of his ability or rather a causation of it. In other words, it doesn't matter whether the guy at bat is paid $10,000 or $10 million. Does extra zeroes on his paycheck really determine how strong he swings or how fast he runs? I don't think so.

The beginning of the movie would seem to suggest that Billy thinks it does and that by the end Peter brings him around to thinking that it doesn't. Steve Zailian and Aaron Sorkin, adapting Michael Lewis' book, are able to relate this idea in moments when Peter tells Billy about a player who didn't even realize he hit a home run. By the end though, I was left feeling that none of it mattered or made any difference, particularly because of Oakland's loss to the Minnesota Twins. I know that was factually what happened, but the way that moment was built up was odd. It actually would have been fine, but, from the tone of the film, I wasn't sure if this story was supposed to be a tragedy or a triumph. I just wasn't sure how the filmmakers wanted me to feel at the end.

Zailian and Sorkin do get the baseball lingo perfectly, so much so that I had no clue what anyone was saying in many scenes. This isn't a negative criticism because in the previous year there was another sports film that got a lot of accolades, The Fighter (2010), starring Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale, and that film had a lot of boxing lingo that I didn't get either, but yet I still loved it. I loved it mostly because it had other things going on than just the lingo.

Moneyball doesn't really have other things going on than just the lingo. It tries to do so. There are scenes with Billy and his adorable daughter who worries about him and who sings him songs. There are scenes where Billy goes to Scott Hatteberg, played by Chris Pratt, and basically takes this down-and-out player and resurrects him. There are the flashback scenes that show us teenage Billy Beane and his career as a player or lackthereof.

All of which were well done and were almost enough to make me care. The draw instead was Pitt's performance here. Pitt is great. What I didn't appeciate were the numerous scenes of Billy driving alone in his truck, but anytime Pitt is in a room with someone he shines as an actor. I can point to so many examples, but two of my favorite scenes in this piece are Billy's first confrontation with Peter and Billy's last confrontation with Grady Fuson, a scouting director whom Billy fires.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated PG for some strong language.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 13 mins.


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