This week's movie is the Brad Pitt baseball drama Moneyball!
I had wanted to see Moneyball in the theater but never got around to it, so I leaped at the chance once it hit DVD. Batter up!
The film opens with a real-life footage of the Oakland A's losing baseball games in all manner of embarrassing ways: booting infield balls, crashing into one another, and watching other teams' home run balls sail out of the park. This is 2001, and the Oakland A's are a pretty bad team.
Their manager is former player Billy Beane, played by Brad Pitt. Beane spends a lot of time driving in circles in a parking lot, frustrated at the situation he finds himself in (at one point he tosses a radio playing the game--which the A's are losing, of course--out the window, only to track it down and stomp it into bits).
After a frustrating meeting with the team's owner--who will not pony up a dime more, even though the A's are losing their three best players to the Yankees, whose operating budget is three times Oakland's--Beane decides things have to be done differently. He starts hatching an idea about drafting less big name players, cheaper players, undervalued players. He is met with nothing but resistance from his scouting and coaching staff, who are decidedly Old School:
While in Cleveland trying to strike a deal, Beane watches the whole thing fall apart, partly at least due to the whispered advice of a young assistant. As he is leaving, he finds that young man, who is more than a little intimidated:
The young man in question is Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a bookish, shy low level employee, who nonetheless has bold--even radical--ideas about how baseball teams are managed and how players are assessed and valued. Beane essentially buys him from the Indians, and gives Brand an office in Oakland.
Brand shows Beane the nitty-gritty of statistics and what they reveal in terms of baseball (my gf, who works with statistics for a living, loved this part!). Beane hatches a plan and starts drafting players that are considered by others to be too old, too broken, or generally too hapless to ever get anywhere.
While Beane gets pressure from the media and his own staff, he's also dealing with his daughter, who he dearly loves. There's a painfully awkward scene where Beane goes to pick her up at his ex-wife's house, who has remarried to an excruciatingly even-tempered touchy-feely guy. This scene is all about footwear:
Beane's daughter wonders if her Dad is going to lose his job, after what she's been reading on the internet. Beane's solution? "Don't go on the web. Or watch TV. Or listen to the radio. Or talk to people..."
Spring Training starts, and the team is, in fact, a mess. It's not helped by the fact that the A's coach, Art Howe (played wonderfully by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, in a terse, sour performance) thwarts Beane at every turn, refusing to put in the players in the positions Beane had in mind. The A's lose, lose, lose, and everyone thinks Beane's job is hanging by a thread.
There's a great scene where Beane overhears jovial clowning around in the players' locker room after they've lost another game. Beane--who has generally kept himself at arm's length from the players--steps in to teach them a lesson, which involves bat throwing, Gatorade-cooler-tossing, and a lesson about what losing sounds like:
Silence. Awkward silence.
As you might guess, things start to turn around, but not necessarily in the ways you'd expect. Beane's approach is recognized as having real merit, and near the end of the film Beane finds himself at Fenway Park, faced with a life-changing decision:
I found Moneyball to be a truly involving film, or ever level: the story, the pacing, the performances. Brad Pitt is terrific as Beane, and absolutely deserved the Oscar nomination he's received. We see a guy who has a hunch, and has basically put all the chips on the table on that hunch. He's at turns confident, angry, nervous, and often very, very funny. I laughed out loud more times during Moneyball than I have during many straightforward comedies.
Jonah Hill is a great foil to Pitt; both in terms of looks and energy. Pitt's Beane releases his energy in a hundred different ways, while Hill's Brand--who is just as revolutionary in this thinking--remains contained, almost painfully so. Yet this unassuming, schlubby guy is completely reinventing the National Pastime.
I'm a baseball fan and figured I would enjoy this movie, but I am happy to report Moneyball exceeded my expectations. It's a real winner.
Moneyball is available via Amazon in multiple formats. If you're a baseball fan, a statistics fan, or just someone who loves solid movie dramas, I suggest you give it a try: