Thursday, November 3, 2011

Movie Review: Moneyball

Around 2002, Billy Beane was the general manager for the Oakland A’s baseball club. Not having a budget like the New York Yankees, he couldn’t afford the popular players. So he came up with a different approach.

That’s the background for the unlikely likeable Moneyball. In the interest of saving you time, I’ll let you know this is not your typical sports movie. Sure, it’s got dramatic game play and team building, but there’s also a twelve year old girl in a music store, singing a song she wrote for her dad. We have a first base player who has never played first base, and a young economics graduate from Yale trying to explain baseball to a star hitter. And if that’s not enough, there are scenes of Oakland that proved to me some places out west are much less beautiful than good old Southwest Louisiana.

So just sit back and enjoy the show. Brad Pitt plays Billy, although another actor plays Beane’s younger self in flashbacks of his short career playing professional baseball. It turns out Billy was one of many rising stars that fizzled out before he got started. I was expecting a movie of goofy misfits coming together as a team, sort of a Longest Yard of baseball. Instead, we find ourselves looking into the heart and soul of a guy who the sport has swept up and left in the back corner, now manager of the poorest team in the country. His boss, the owner of the A’s, doesn’t care about winning the World Series. The guy just wants people to buy hot dogs and make him a profit. The trouble is, that’s not what Billy wants.

In one of a number of great scenes, he’s trying to trade a couple of players to the Cleveland Indians, when a heavyset college type (Jonah Hill) whispers something to an assistant manager and blows the whole deal. Later Billy confronts the young man and finds out that he has some crazy ideas about baseball. Billy listens. He can’t afford to buy star players, so he buys the kid’s contract. Together, they build a team centered on statistics: draft players who can get on base and get runs.

It turns out that no one in baseball runs a team this way. They all go after stars. Billy’s team is cheap. All of his players have flaws. But they have the ability to get on base, even if it’s by getting a walk.

The story could have been mundanely told. Instead it’s beautifully told. In fact, if I had a complaint, it’s that some of the scenes in Moneyball seem over directed, as if we’re supposed to see every scene as key to the whole movie. But you can’t deny that the movie sports some extremely subtle humor with commentary perfectly sprinkled throughout.

I’m mainly a guy who watches only Houston Astros baseball, and then only when they’re winning. Thankfully, you don’t have to be a baseball fan to appreciate the human drama in Moneyball, the drama that comes from trying to reach a goal while trying to figure out what that goal is.

These days, to be rated PG-13, a movie has to be either violent or have vulgarity. The couple four letter words I heard seemed out of place, put in specifically to get the mature rating. Moneyball proves that you don’t have to have the charm of Brad Pitt to make it in baseball. But if you want to be a success, you may need to redefine what the word means as you go. 

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