When Moneyball was published in 2003, it helped revolutionize the way some teams approached the game of baseball. For decades, since the advent of free agency, small market teams had helplessly watched as their best players developed into stars, only to hit the open market and be gobbled up by larger market teams with bigger payrolls. Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane gave Moneyball's author Michael Lewis access to his methods and the back-room deals that led a presumed also-ran team into a post-season run and a history-making winning streak.
Beane managed to pull this off by using sabermetrics. Sabermetrics is the analysis of baseball players by using objective statistics, such as on-base percentage, instead of something random like home runs. Beane was doing this in an attempt to put a winning team on the field for pennies on the dollar. Think of it as buying generic instead of name brand medications.
Beane is played by Brad Pitt in the film. I'm sure you've had a chance to catch him on the interview circuit by now. Everyone is saying that this is his Sandra Bullock/The Blind Side moment—basically, his best shot at ever winning Best Actor at the Academy Awards.
In the film, the Athletics are just coming off a winning season but are losing their three best players to free agency. Oakland is portrayed as the crap heap of professional baseball, with a dump of a stadium, extremely low attendance, and ownership that refuses to pay for talented ball players.
While in Cleveland to talk trades, Beane meets Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a young Ivy Leaguer who manages to get a couple of his suggested deals shot down. Afterwards, Brand tells Beane during a conversation that he should be elated that his star players have left, because that frees up a ton of money and what's the difference between a player making $7 million and a player making $650,000 if they both get on base 35 percent of the time? Beane hires Brand and they live happily ever after.
Here's the dirty little secret behind Moneyball that no one ever mentions. During the same time that Beane was throwing away the rule book and doing things his way and yada yada yada, there were a ton of other ball clubs already using sabermetrics to evaluate players. Here's the catch: When Lewis called those clubs, no one wanted their methods printed for the world to see. Hence, a team like the Athletics became the focus of a book written by Lewis.
What does that have to do with the movie? Well, there have been tons of films released lately that have been perfectly fine movies. Not great, certainly not bad, just fine. Unfortunately, Moneyball lands in that same spot. Think of it as the male version of The Help: flawed, but decent.
Directed by Bennett Miller (Capote), from the scraps that were left over from Steven Soderbergh's failed attempt at an adaption, this is surprisingly faithful to the book. I haven't seen a film so in love with mathematics since A Beautiful Mind, or perhaps even Good Will Hunting. Brad Pitt does an excellent job with the role of Beane. I don't know if it's award-worthy, but I am interested in seeing what Pitt does in the future.
Unfortunately, as the credits rolled, I couldn't help but feel like there was something lacking from the film. Perhaps it was Philip Seymour Hoffman's performance as manager Art Howe, portrayed in the book as little more than an irritant, and appearing here as little more than a name actor big enough to be recognizable but perhaps not so big that you actually have to worry about fleshing out his role. Maybe it was Robin Wright (Forrest Gump), one of the most criminally underutilized actresses in Hollywood, appearing here as Beane's ex-wife in a total of one scene.
I am definitely torn on this film, but strongly recommend it to anyone with a love for baseball. If you are going in expecting some tour de force performance from Mr. Pitt, however, don't believe the hype.
Image © 2011 Columbia TriStar Marketing Group, Inc. All rights reserved.