Synopsis: Brad Pitt stars in the real-life tale of Major League Baseball general manager Billy Beane, who built up a winning team despite a decreased budget thanks to his sly use of statistical data to calculate the best — and cheapest — players for his roster.
Release Date: September 23, 2011 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Sports, Drama
If there was ever going to be a movie about baseball that would define baseball, and not the physical sport of the game but the business side Moneyball would be the definitive go to picture. Based on a true story, and adapted from the novel “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game” by Michael Lewis, Moneyball is not about playing baseball, it is about how to win based on statistical and analytical choices when choosing a team–the computer program is the star of Moneyball.
General Manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) is in charge of the Oakland A’s baseball team; one of the poorest teams in baseball. While the New York Yankees spend exorbitant amounts of money a year, the Oakland A’s spend a mere fraction of their total. When the Oakland A’s have a great player, or more than one, the players get offered more money, more perks, and the prestige of working with a “better” team.
It does not take much to steal a player from the Oakland A’s–they even have to pay for a soda in the locker room. The term “gutted” is used in the beginning of Moneyball to describe this occurrence since Beane’s team has just lost three of their most valuable players coming into the 2002 season. He is now faced with finding new players, who will not require much money because he does not have any money to give them.
The saving grace for Billy Beane comes in the form of a recent college graduate who has never had a job before his assistant position at The Cleveland Indians. Billy trades the Indians for Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) because Peter has an idea Billy is intrigued by; you do not buy players you buy runs, and by buying runs you buy wins. This way of thinking is foreign to everyone in baseball, and if your mind can process the math quickly, read stats, and understand why it does not matter who plays first base, the new philosophy will sit well with you–everyone in Moneyball, including the Oakland A’s coach Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman) thinks Billy and Peter are crazy for this unconventional method.
Moneyball is all about the business, with scenes over trading players, making deals, manipulating situations to the benefit of the team, and all the other ways a large company such as a baseball team gets by everyday. There are the low points in Billy and Peter’s struggle to make their team, cutely commented by Peter as “an island of misfit toys,” a success. Then there are the high points, and the moment in time where the Oakland A’s make baseball history. But the grand majority of the movie does not take place on the field, nor does it rely on the successes and failures during game play to deliver the excitement, the thrills, and momentum to keep the story going.
As stated above, the computer is the main character in Moneyball and the action all takes place off of the field as Billy struggles with his decisions. The gameplay may set in motion what happens in the office, and vice versa, but Moneyball is not for those who want to watch a baseball game. Although the pacing of the film does reflect attending a game.
Moneyball‘s pacing is slightly problematic, and you have to really like baseball in order to fully enjoy the ups and downs. Moneyball plays out just like a baseball game…the beginning is exciting and interesting as the team takes the field, then there is the seventh inning stretch where you have grown a bit tired and stiff, then the finale comes where everyone is excited to see who will win and how, and finally the inevitable lull of the ending, when you find yourself in your car in the parking lot sitting in traffic wishing you could just go home now.
This is not to say that Moneyball is not an interesting and engaging movie. It simply takes a patient mind who enjoys the business of baseball, or is curious enough to know how it all works, to really engage with the film. The characters are not developed so there is no rooting for them, the players on the field are expendable, and the connections between characters are stagnant. Moneyball works because of the fascination over this new technique in how to win at baseball, everything else is just filler–albeit generally entertaining filler.
The novel “Moneyball” by Michael Lewis was not a classical narrative structure with the standard character arcs needed to develop a film out of the story. This fact shows greatly in the finished product of the script. Screenwriter’s Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian have created a script full of humorous deadpan one-liners, likable characters in Peter Brand and first baseman Scott Hatteberg (Chris Pratt), an unlikable character in Coach Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and a character that ceases to change, or really affect the viewer whatsoever in Billy Beane.
As it goes for the baseball part of the film, they do an excellent job of creating the season that would change baseball forever because they achieve the greatest thing possible with baseball…it isn’t boring to watch, even without great characters. Moneyball‘s success is in the creation of the baseball business on screen and all of the fundamental pieces of the game’s past, and the new future Beane and Brand are helping to usher in with great difficulty.
The faultiness of the screenplay lies in the characters, and the lack of development or any form of dramatic change. Billy Beane is not a warm, thoughtful person. He prefers to be kept apart from his players so he can cut them without any emotional ties should the time arise. Many of his scenes remind you of Tom Cruise’s Jerry in Jerry Maguire; but Billy really likes to make a mess by tossing water jugs over, toppling his desk, or hitting stuff with a bat.
There is a side-story for Billy that tries to humanize him, that of his time spent with his daughter. The daughter’s presence is clearly used to explain the decision Billy makes at the end of the film–not the most original piece of storytelling but expected. There is also a look into his past, to see how and why he is in the place he is now. As well as to show the anatomy of a player so to speak in baseball. Billy was the “perfect player” as a teenager, and the choices he made and ultimate consequences of those choices is something no one could predict.
This extra storyline adds some meat to the character of Billy Beane but it is not enough to ever make the viewer feel anything for him. Billy is all business, and even when he becomes more active with the players it is always about the game, and the stats, and the computer program. Brad Pitt gives his all to the character, there just isn’t enough in the script for his character to work with.
Jonah Hill’s Peter Brand is the sidekick of this story. A newbie to the baseball business, and the business world, he is quite green about everything except his computer program. Peter is given the majority of the humorous lines and Hill can deliver a line on point exceptionally well–which helps lighten the mood of the movie. But there is nothing to know about Peter Brand, or any desire to know more given what we see on screen.
He is, and remains, one-dimensional; relying on the basic necessities of a supporting character and not aiming to break free of the elementary depiction of the character. In contrast to Billy he is the softer character, having not been hardened by the world of baseball. The two characters on screen work exceptionally well together, they simply do not do anything in terms of dialogue or action that heightens Moneyball.
If it were not for the computer program and the drama associated with changing a game as old as time itself (or so it feels) Moneyball would have nothing to offer a viewer.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Bennett Miller
- Screenwriters: Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin
- Cast: Brad Pitt (Billy Beane), Jonah Hill (Peter Brand), Robin Wright (Sharon), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Art Howe), Chris Pratt (Scott Hatteberg), Kathryn Morris (Tara Beane)
- Editor(s): Christopher Tellefsen
- Cinematographer: Wally Pfister
- Production Designer(s): Jess Gonchor
- Country Of Origin: USA