I’ve lived in Northern California for almost all of my life and in that time I’ve been a fan of the San Francisco Giants. While I can’t say I hate the Oakland A’s, I’ve just never been a fan. While I’d never out and out root for them, I do have a grudging respect for all they’ve accomplished while the Giants, who are “the” baseball team here, have only managed one World Series victory to the A’s four. However I never truly understood all of the hullabaloo over the “Moneyball” way of looking at the game of baseball. While everyone was bending over backwards to kiss the behind of A’s general manager Billy Beane for “recreating the game,” all I ever saw was a low budget franchise that managed to throw together a bunch of cast off players, win their division and then get destroyed by teams with higher payrolls. Maybe the book “Moneyball” (which is excellent) just didn’t do enough to paint a lifelike picture of Billy Beane the man, and what he truly did to change the game, because having seen the big-screen adaptation, I totally “get” the “Moneyball” concept now and what it means. And not just to baseball, but to the world we live in.
“Moneyball” is the story of how Billy Beane (Pitt) and a Harvard economics grad named Peter Brand (Hill) (Note: “Peter Brand” is actually a fictional character who, in the book, is Paul DePodesta) changed how on-field talent is judged, used and paid. Brand dares to shatter 150 year old ways of scouting players, which caught the attention of Beane. They then put together a team that on the surface looked like an utter joke and not only won their division, but broke a baseball record by winning 20 games in a row. It’s a pretty amazing story and the adaptation brings the story to life very well. In fact, during the first 45 minutes of the film I was nearly teary eyed at how great “Moneyball” was coming together as a film. But then suddenly, the film bogged down in the middle and I’m really not sure why. By the time the credits rolled I still felt it was a great film but had missed the perfection it started off with. Like the Oakland A’s themselves, the film started off strong but in the end, couldn’t sustain it’s winning ways.
Considering the fact that a team struggling to win and the inherent drama involved should have been the best parts, it’s downright weird how I found those parts of the film boring. For me the best parts of the film are how director Bennett Miller (working from a script by all-star writing team Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zailian. And yes, that’s the last baseball analogy I’ll use here) paints the A’s and Beane as sort of middle-to-lower class America. No matter how hard the team tries, some bigger, badder corporate bastards, in this case the New York Yankees, throw money at their problems and screw the little guy in the process. Much like how Walmart drove off small businesses or, say, a corporate plumbing company bids lower for jobs and forces out small business owners, richer baseball teams are able to easily lure away great players on small market teams with the almighty dollar. It’s not fair, it sucks and it threatens to ruin the game but it’s the way it’s done. Or at least it was. The film does a nice job dovetailing this idea of our money hungry society with that of Beane himself, who turned down a full ride scholarship to Stanford in order to take a big signing bonus to sign with the New York Mets out of high school. Beane forever regretted that decision and it helped make him the man he is today.
“Moneyball” is still a very solid and entertaining film. I liked how it didn’t go for the easy sports movie path of putting together disparate personalities and then have the audience watch as they finally gel. That happens in the film, but it’s not in the fore. Rather we really get to know Beane and Brad Pitt does a great job making a wickedly competitive and somewhat damaged man highly likable. Jonah Hill is also great as Paul Brand and shows he has a quiet yet still funny side to his acting ability. I found Phillip Seymore Hoffman to be underused and also a bad choice to play A’s manager Art Howe but his sad-sack, selfish actions were still played out nicely. “Moneyball” is a movie about struggling to make it in America but it’s also about doing something you love for the love of it, not just for a payday. It’s about having loyalty in the face of dollars wagging in your face. It’s also all about baseball. As a result, it’s a highly relatable and entertaining film for most anyone, not just baseball fans.