moneyball [muhn-ee bawl] noun 1. A derisive name for a sport (especially baseball) in which skill and fans seem secondary to money, esp. a sport in which teams, hoping to secure winning seasons and the resulting broadcasting and merchandising incomes, negotiate expensive contracts with desirable players.
If it ain’t broke don’t fix it right? Well in 2001/02 Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane didn’t believe in that old adage. In charge of the one of the MLB’s most under funded ball clubs he was tired of getting beat; not just by the team on the field but by the big dollars behind the team and that’s the game in which Beane could never compete. So, it’s not to say that the system in baseball was broken (which would instantly necessitate fixing) but it sure wasn’t working as far as Beane was concerned.
Bennett Miller directs the likes of Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill and his old Capote star Philip Seymour Hoffman in this adaptation of Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game (written by Michael M. Lewis). Helping bring this story to screen is Aaron Sorkin giving us what is almost The Social Network of baseball. However, the screenplay of Moneyball probably looked a lot better on paper than it did on the screen and is not as impacting or effective as his last effort. Major Leauge this is not. For those of you yet to read the book (myself included) this bears similarities to For Love of the Game with its flashbacks but really this plays more like Jerry Maguire as far as its message goes. Like Maguire, Billy Bean’s prerogative is about getting down to essentials and following what you believe to be right…even if the whole world thinks you’re nuts.
As Moneyball is a novel based on true events of a real person, the autobiographical angle is a nice touch and takes us on a journey more meaningful than just another point A to point B rebuilding story. Not sure if credit goes to Miller, Sorkin, or the cast but Moneyball delivers heart and purpose early on as it’s entirely genuine right out of the box. But this time around the cast really takes second fiddle to what is without doubt a great story…however it’s unfortunately not told as well as it could be.
Brad Pitt as Beane is very subdued and on the level making Moneyball almost feel like real-time footage as we follow this true story of one man’s paradigm shift that in turn brought a lot more change than he ever hoped for. Further it shows the truth of the matter which is that life gives you two options, “adapt or die“. So throwing out a system that has been in place for 150 years (to results that even Beane has experienced doesn’t always work) he tries something new and it actually shows lots of promise to say nothing of actually working. Pitt plays a very likeable character and further one you can root for but there’s nothing about the material that really needed a “star” to sell it.
Changing gears Jonah Hill is quite a surprise not only in his infinitely reserved demeanor but also his competency for drama. It’s a far cry from his roles as silver-tongued master weaver of profane ad-libbing. Utterly enjoyable are not only the exchanges between Hill and Pitt but the business side of baseball that few get to see and the two make what would be dry scenes clever and funny. Seemingly timid but with confidence Hill goes on to take control of a scene more than a few times. Futher, in one of the best parts of the film, he explains the “what have you learned Dorothy” lesson to Pitt (Beane) getting him to realize that when you look so hard for something it sometimes takes a while for you to figure out that you’ve already got it.
Moneyball is not a straight-up comedy nor is it a full-on drama but a mix of both and even that’s not getting it right. It’s a heartfelt story about one man setting out to change the game that’s been called a metaphor for life. The difficulty it has in telling the story is that there’s just too much and still not enough of any of it. We get the message of what Beane is trying to do. That’s OK and a really interesting idea to see him try and make it all work but it starts to drag and yet we never get very deep into the mechanics of why it works and continues to do so. One really great scene is where Beane is negotiating trades to get better use of his formula. It happens so fast and may have had a Hollywood touch to it, but it was very fulfilling to see a side of baseball that most will never know about because it happens behind closed doors. Moneyball really needed more of those.
The humorous bits are nice pick-you-ups and the flashbacks to Beane as a younger and struggling player attempt to show the motivation behind his thought process. But then there’s some convoluted family drama that doesn’t really have to do with the tone and direction of the movie. It therefore gets side tracked in the attempts to show a different side of Beane and flesh him out. Well Beane’s personal life doesn’t really have any bearing on his professional life save for how losing the latter might affect the former. So it’s not really needed. Next, his affection for his daughter (though those scenes were incredibly cute don’t get me wrong) come across not forced but serve no linear purpose. Again, not really needed either.
Even with all the elements and players (both characters and actual players) Moneyball feels thin especially when spread out over a 133 minute runtime. It could have been streamlined to show more of how his formula worked and how he developed it followed by more conversations with his team. Lose the family angle and the wasted Philip Seymour Hoffman and this could have been a tight and toned 100 minute film to the same effect if not more so. Not bad in the least, it is really quite enjoyable, but for a movie about development and getting the most for your money Moneyball needed to take a cue from its own story and condense things for maximum efficiency.