Sam: In the world of sports there are few greater feelings than a winning streak. It’s a rare occurrence, particularly in a meticulous game like baseball. But what the Oakland Athletics accomplished in 2002, coming up victorious in 20 straight games, was beyond any fundamental or statistical strategy. The stars aligned and the team found what I like to call the zone. A place where idiosyncrasies are non-existent and faults diminished. It’s a mixture of luck, talent, and absolute focus on the subject at hand. When the pieces do finally come into place though, it’s a beautiful sight.
Adapted from Michael Lewis’ “The Art of Winning An Unfair Game,” Moneyball follows the true story of A’s general manger Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) and fresh out of Yale graduate Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), as the two attempt to create a team on a small budget using computer-generated analysis. This sort of style of managing baseball is considered a fallacy in the game, as it breaks every theory and method baseball was founded on.
This radical theory Beane and Brand are testing says that all you need is runs and men on base to be a winning ball club. On one hand, that method is clearly flawed. For starters, it neglects pitching and fielding entirely, while simultaneously not taking into account injuries and other occurrences that happen within the game of baseball. However, it proves to be successful on the offensive side of the field, knocking in batters and sticking to the analytics of the game. What makes Moneyball such an enjoyable experience is that all of it is true. The A’s really did test the water with radical ideas in 2002 – and they were, at the time, hazed and criticized for it.
The film portrays real players and coaches with some bittersweet authenticity. Pitt gives an honest portrayal of a man containing inner conflicts – in both the past and the present. He ponders about his former middling baseball career and how it all started with a choice between the Majors or a full ride to Stanford. Beyond the past, Beane has to confront the realties of possibly losing his job and receiving plenty of ridicule from fans (and critics) for his unnatural methods as General Manger.
Hill also shines here as an intelligent and modest kid who brings this groundbreaking theory to Beane. Phillip Seymour Hoffman (as A’s coach Art Howe) and Robin Wright (former wife of Billy) deliver some quality performances as well.
Moneyball, like every sports team, has its highs and lows. The pacing is all over the place, most particularly in the first half-hour of the film which opens remarkably slow. The transitions from scene to scene consistently come off as oddly juxtaposed and the script often purposely disregards factual information of the 2002 Oakland A’s for dramatic effect. Just to point one perfunctory mistake (if you know your baseball): the film never acknowledges that the A’s had three All-Star pitchers in 2002: Barry Zito, Mark Mulder, and Tim Hudson. The Big Three — the glue of this ball club — are completely neglected.
It’s no surprise Moneyball was written by the brilliant Aaron Sorkin: this is a fresh, shrewd, and engaging look at the game of baseball, completed with biting wit. The film works best, though, as a character study of a man who relives the horrors of his failed baseball career each day, while still striving to change the game he once loved.
Moneyball is an intelligent and endearing little film, one that should work for all audiences, even those who confuse baseball and cricket as being the same game.
3 Stars out of 4
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Paolo: This is acting school, my friends. The first movie I get to watch in the TIFF program, the Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zaillian-penned Moneyball, taps into the the real life conundrum of the Oakland Athletics circa 2001, a decent, underfunded baseball team plagued by their inability to win a single playoff series. Because of their financial constraints, they are losing star players like Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi and the scouts want them replaced with unproven but cheaper ‘Fabio’-like baseball players.
The A’s general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) is tired of his scouts’ archaic ways of thinking and the film’s crescendos are, from this point on, scenes in which Billy discovers like-minded people. One of them is an intern by the name of Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a character based on Paul de Podesta, who tells Billy that a team can win through something that seems too good to be legal. Peter explains that using rigorous statistical analysis, he can find many players who are overlooked despite of their real production, which should be the focus of a player’s worth. Astonished, Billy hires him to shake up the A’s board room to the chagrin of the older scouts and coaches who feel threatened by this new system.
Members of this singular team have clashing interests and approaches to the game and it’s difficult not to imagine other directors handling the same material. These characters could have been more unsympathetic under a satirist like Steven Soderbergh, originally slated to direct the film. There could also simply have been more yelling, like Mike Nichols did with Sorkin’s Charlie Wilson’s War or less yelling, like David Fincher’s underwhelming and overrated take on The Social Network. Thankfully Bennett Miller finds a balance between the extremes, letting his cast duke it out like civilized yet stubborn men, even pulling the camera away when Billy throws tantrums and things towards the office hallways.
Based on the Michael Lewis book, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, this film is essentially an examination of Billy Beane and Pitt delivers a shrewd and satisfying performance, the camera closing up on him through every anguished expression or pretense of normalcy. There are also underused supporting characters like Artie Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman who gets third billing despite the small role). Hoffman, who was previously Indiewood’s resident weird guy, has recently taken roles representing conventionality’s hypocrisies. He does the same here, his character sticking to the older ‘star’ players instead of the talented new ones that Billy and Peter have brought to the team. There’s also Scott Hatteberg (Chris Pratt), who is a mirror character for Billy, the latter being a former baseball player himself. Of course, there are Billy and Scott’s wives played by great actresses like Robin Wright and Tammy Blanchard but in a male dominated cast such as this, the female characters are nameless and only appear in one scene.
Despite being blended well, the film’s second half is distinctly more Sorkinian than the first and it’s not difficult to ignore the screenwriter’s tics and flaws. All of a sudden these hard-shelled men become nostalgic when the A’s fate is starting to turn for the better. Even the scientifically and statistically minded Peter is secretly a romantic at heart, unable to let go of certain players even if it goes against his methods. But no matter, this half can make anyone, even a person with a hard heart like me, care deeply about the game of baseball.