Saturday, February 15, 2014

Moneyball (2011)

Moneyball (2011)
I'm a huge baseball fan so I had read the non-fiction book Moneyball a few years before I watching the movie. I was also already familiar with the events before reading the book and am very knowledgeable about the sport. I heard about a film adaptation after I finished the book and wondered how it would be done. While I loved the book and think it's a great story, it didn't seem to lend itself to film like other real life events. Although I liked the movie version, I still feel that the best way to tell this story would be as a documentary. That said, Moneyball is a nice attempt that manages to be as good a movie as possible with the source material.
Director Bennet Miller does a solid job given the high degree of difficulty here. This is Miller's third film having previously directed the documentary The Cruise as well as Capote. As you can see, Miller is no stranger to making movies based on true events and was therefore a good choice to direct. Steven Soderbergh was originally supposed to direct Moneyball but left the project after creative disagreements. Soderbergh wanted to make the film more like a docudrama and feature interviews with the actual players. I think I would've preferred his version though I still liked the movie we ended up with.

Moneyball chronicles the 2002 Oakland A's as they try to win the World Series despite competing with 29 other teams who have more money than they do to acquire good players. The A's general manager, Billy Beane, uses sabermetrics (analysis of baseball statistics) to find players who are undervalued by other teams but will help the A's win ball games.
As a baseball fan I was able to jump right in with the terms, statistics, and even names of players. I saw the film with my Dad who liked it, though admitted that there was stuff which went over his head. For example, the movie frequently throws around the phrase "five tool player," which is even used to describe the playing career of Billy Beane, without ever explaining what those five tools are. Therefore it seems that Moneyball was made more for baseball fans than the masses.
Unlike a lot of sports movies, Moneyball focuses on the off the field business side of the sport which is a nice change of pace for the genre. Not a lot of baseball action is shown, and most of the games we see are real footage of the 2002 A's.
The acting is very good all around. Brad Pitt and the now late Phillip Seymour Hoffman put in stand out performances. This is only the second movie of his I've seen with Phillip Seymour Hoffman so I'll need to check out more of his films. Jonah Hill is fine but I don't think his performance was worthy of an Oscar nomination (which was one of this movie's six nominations despite not winning any awards).

Some of the facts are changed or conflated but this seems to have been done mostly to shape a narrative out of a series of events that didn't really have one. For example, Art Howe is portrayed as a villainous figure which wasn't the case even though he didn't always get along with Billy Beane. Jonah Hill's character is a composite based on A's assistant General manager Paul DePodesta as well as other scouts and advisers on the A's. Hardcore baseball fans will notice other inaccuracies but this almost always comes with the territory of Hollywood adapting true events into movies. These changes do make sense from a storytelling perspective as they were a way to raise the stakes and add more tension.
I understand why Moneyball didn't discuss how the A's chose players to draft since the movie is only about the 2002 Oakland A's and not Billy Beane's entire tenure as their general manager. However, I still feel that this could've been included briefly as it would've paralleled nicely with Beane's story of being a top draft pick for the New York Mets in the 80s.
Moneyball has slow pacing. The movie didn't need to be over two hours long and several individual scenes could've easily been cut down or out. The editing is fine as I liked how the story scenes were inter-cut with the real footage to give the movie a the feel of docudrama at times. However, Beane's backstory should've been told straight through at the beginning since flashing back to it several times didn't add anything to the story for me.

The book shows that while the use of sabermetrics by Beane and the A's was successful, the system wasn't perfect. Both the movie and book place an emphasis on how moneyball doesn't work in small sample sizes. However, the movie doesn't get much into the fact the playoffs themselves are a small sample size. The book discusses players the A's selected in the draft only for their statistics who ended up failing in ways that regular scouting would've foreseen such as an overweight catcher who can't run and a pitcher who had an arm deformity which ultimately ended his career in the minor leagues. Moneyball implies that sabermetrics alone work while the book doesn't completely discount the old way of scouting and suggests it should be part of the moneyball process. I feel that the film would've benefited by showing that Beane and sabermetrics aren't always right.
I think most baseball fans will enjoy this movie but your mileage may vary if you are a novice to the sport. Still, even as a hardcore baseball fan there are more fun (Major League) and better (The Natural, Field of Dreams) baseball movies out there.
Fun Fact: Spike Jonze has an uncredited cameo!

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