Moneyball (2011) movie poster

(2011) director Bennett Miller
viewed: 10/14/2011 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA

Moneyball is a good baseball movie.  Quite a good baseball movie.  Maybe not a great baseball movie.

I never read Michael Lewis’ 2003 book from which this film was adapted, though I’ve always heard it was a good read.  But I lived here in the Bay Area during the time of the events depicted and followed the A’s, not as closely as my hometown team the Giants, but I’ve always followed it.  In that way, in particular for me, it had an added level of interest.

The film stars Brad Pitt as Billy Beane, the General Manager whiz for the Oakland A’s and his attempts to field a successful baseball team at a budget less than a quarter of the top tier teams in the league.  The film follows the 2002 season, which starts when the A’s lose three of their top players to free agency after losing the ALDS to the Yankees.  Pitt meets Peter Brand (played by Jonah Hill), a Yale-educated economics guy who adheres to an outsider system of analyzing baseball success called Sabremetrics, which focuses on statistical analysis to target players that other teams would overlook, keen on “on base percentage” over things like fielding and raw talent.

The film takes quite a bit of license with the reality, Brand for instance isn’t a real person, but a composite of various assistants.  So, it would be interesting to know at least what Lewis reported on as the facts in his book.  But Beane had to fight the baseball traditionalists and a lot of other stuff to get this vision onto the field.  And then it was working.  The A’s went on a 20-game win streak, a record-breaking streak that vaulted them back into the playoffs and validated the sabremetric approach.

There is some irony in a baseball movie in which the heroes are the ones with the spreadsheets, not the traditional aspects of the game that give baseball so much of its flavor and character.  It would be typically easier to side with the gritty, old-school scouts who actually offer the film its richest, funniest moments.  It seems that they used a group of aging real scouts to play the team that Beane has to shake up with his radical thinking.  These guys are inimitable, talking about a guy’s face, the looks of his girlfriend, saying all kinds of arcane gobbletygook that it’s got to be real.  Best part of the movie for my money.

As Pitt as Beane says more than once in the film, “It’s hard not to get romantic about baseball.”  And like all good sports films, you do get caught up in the dramatics, even knowing what the outcome will be.  The film paints Beane as an uber-competitive, idiosyncratic baseball man but also as a caring, loving father.  And ultimately, Beane turned down the big dollars to go to work for the Boston Red Sox, who ended up fielding a World Series winning team that year,  to stay in California, not just for the A’s but for his daughter.  And Beane, of course, still runs the ship over on the other side of the bay.

It’s a good story, a good movie.  I think I will look to read the book now.

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