Monday, January 30, 2012

Moneyball

Directed by Bennett Miller.
2011. Rated PG-13, 133 minutes.
Cast:
Brad Pitt
Jonah Hill
Philip Seymour-Hoffman
Robin Wright
Chris Pratt
Stephen Bishop
Brent Jennings
Jack McGee
Nick Porrazzo

Billy Beane (Pitt) was a can’t miss baseball prospect that did indeed miss. Now, he’s General Manager of the Oakland Athletics, responsible for acquiring players to put on the field. After a 2001 season in which his team nearly reached the World Series, he’s lost his three best players to the big money contracts they’ve been offered by larger market teams. He has to figure out how to put together a competitive team on a shoestring budget.

Like any self-respecting sports movie, Moneyball isn’t about the sport that makes up the action scenes. It’s about the people involved. In this case, it’s Billy and, to a lesser degree, Peter Brand (Hill). Billy is a man already under pressure. The fact he can only spend a third of what some of his competitors can makes it so. He wants to think outside the box, but the people who’ve been advising him for many years are stuck in their traditional mindset.

This is where Peter comes in. For lack of a better description, Pete is a stat-geek. However, he is of a breed not yet accepted by the establishment. Baseball has always been about numbers to a degree greater than other sports. The question is are the numbers once deemed of supreme importance giving way to a new set of statistics. The old guys already working for Billy can talk doubles, triples, homeruns and runs batted in, endlessly. Pete analyzes players differently. He uses their numbers for raw data, inputs them into mathematical equations and comes up with opinions on players that are often far different that what old school baseball people think.



Though he’s not the protagonist, Pete is the movie’s most important and best written character. He fully embodies a new ideology. In him, we see what Billy is hoping is the wave of the future. He’s the best written because he’s constantly walking a tightrope, teetering on the edge of losing the audience. Anytime he speaks more than a couple sentences at a time, MB risks making people hate the very concept he and Billy so feverently push because it can feel like a steady stream of baseball nerd jargon that many people don’t care or want to hear about. Magically, he speaks just enough that viewers with even minimal understanding of the sport get a vague idea of what he does and why everyone else tells he and Billy that they’re crazy.

Still, Billy’s drama drives the movie. There’s the aforementioned pressure he’s facing which includes probably losing not only his job, but Pete’s as well. We also get to see Billy’s close relationship with his daughter. She lives with his ex and worries about her dad. After all, specualation about whether he should be fired is extremely public. It’s a story arc we’re familiar with. Whatever is lacking in the way of suspense, Brad Pitt makes up for with his sheer magnetism. He’s compelling without being showy. He’s pretty much the difference between MB being a decent sports flick and being an excellent film of any type.

In tone and style MB resembles The Social Network. Of course, we’re replacing Jesse Eisenberg’s sullenness with Pitt’s movie star wattage. Both movies represent changes in our collective thinking. The way Facebook helped revolutionize the way we communicate, so too does the ideals championed by Billy and Pete to the way baseball teams are structured, or so we’re told. Hardcore fans of the sport may bristle at the omission of contributions to the team’s success made by shortstop Miguel Tejada. The fact that he was named the American League’s Most Valuable Player with some very big traditional numbers in 2002 flies in the face of the notion that Beane is working strictly with castoffs and misfits. However, if you don’t know or care who Tejada is you won’t miss him. In fact, that may add to your enjoyment. Whether or not it gets all the particulars of the 2002 Major League Baseball season right isn’t important. What is important is that it symbolizes another triumph for the cyber generation. It’s another nail in the coffin of the 20th century.

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