daniel cohen looks into the question: can a movie about baseball metrics be any good?
Plot: Story of the 2002 Oakland Athletics and General Manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) who puts together a baseball team based on statistical analysis on stats that are undervalued by other baseball teams, most notably on-base percentage. Based on the book of the same name, it’s the origin of the ‘Moneyball’ system used by small-market baseball teams.
If you’re going to make a movie about putting a baseball team together using a computer, then Moneyball is probably the best we’ll ever get on the subject. Having said that, it’s just not enough to make a two-hour-plus movie about. The best stuff in here is the pure baseball talk, but because of the subject matter, they have to draw out other story elements and relationships that just don’t work. This probably would have worked better as a one hour documentary.
The pace for this movie is slow, slow, slow, slow, and slow. All of the important and dramatic scenes are stretched out to the point where Stretch Armstrong would be like, ‘Dude, this is getting ridiculous. Stop stretching me.’ There’s a scene where the Oakland Athletics are going for the record of most single season wins in a row, and it’s so long to the point where it’s tortuous. This is the big moment in the film? Potentially breaking a wins record? This is what they have to go on? I really don’t care about some pointless record. Now to be fair, they make a point of talking about how meaningless it is, but it’s such a long and dramatic scene for something that I just don’t think is that interesting.
But what’s even worse is the non-baseball stuff they draw out. There’s a subplot involving Billy Beane and his 12-year-old daughter. The mother is married to someone else. Beane goes to their house as he waits for his daughter to come home, and there’s a long scene about how the daughter got a cell phone and that Beane is upset because he wasn’t involved in that decision. It’s very talky. Why the hell do I care about this? Get back to the baseball! The father/daughter relationship overall is passable, but it didn’t add anything to this movie whatsoever and takes unnecessary screen time away. Even the side plots that do work, like Beane’s back story as a failed major league ballplayer, are too drawn out. They do work this analogy in very cleverly at the end of the film though.
But let’s get to the good stuff, because there is a lot to like about Moneyball. The acting is solid all around. Jonah Hill was much better than I expected as Beane’s statistical genius assistant, Peter Brand. Even though he’s reserved and quiet, you can tell he’s extremely confident about the success the Moneyball system can bring. Hill does a good job of conveying this.
I also liked Philip Seymour Hoffman as A’s manager Art Howe quite a bit. He’s so irritated with this experimental team Beane has given him. The conflict between Beane and Howe is one of the highlights, and just watching the lengths Beane will go to in order to get the lineup he wants out on the field is ridiculous.
Speaking of Beane, Brad Pitt is by far the standout performance here. They really play on the idiosyncrasies of the character. I have no idea if these are true, but I guess people in baseball are always eccentric and superstitious, so I buy it. They also make Beane this guy who could explode at any given moment, and Pitt does a really good job of building that emotion and tension up.
The best parts of the film are watching Beane conduct pure baseball business. There’s a scene at the trading deadline where he’s working the phones and playing three different sides to get a trade done. To see that type of stuff play out is truly fascinating.
One of the things that caught me off guard was seeing that Aaron Sorkin had a hand in writing this script. I didn’t feel his dialogue at all in this.
What else is weird, and probably why I didn’t connect with this movie all that much, is that I don’t agree with the overall message of the film. The movie wants you to believe in this Moneyball system, which is put together by computers. The antagonists, who are baseball scouts and sports analysts, are telling you that you can’t just build a team based on statistics, you need that human element. And I agree with the antagonists! I agree somewhat with the Moneyball system, but only partially. Yet, the film doesn’t really play both sides of the fence. It clearly wants you to side 100 percent with Billy Beane’s system, and that this is the new way to build a baseball team. ‘Adapt or die’ as they say in the film. They make this very clear with the tag they put at the end. It’s a reference to the 2004 Red Sox, and the statement they make, in my opinion, is not entirely accurate. I would have liked to have seen more of a ‘you need a little bit of both the big market way of thinking, as well as the Moneyball way of thinking.’ That’s what makes baseball such a difficult sport to conquer if you have little money like the A’s. But the movie makes it seem like, ‘Hey, just use Moneyball, and everything will work out.’
But I’m getting into more baseball opinion here. As far as the movie goes, it’s just paced way too slow. Every single scene is drawn out. There are some good performances and a few intense moments here and there that are worth seeing, but I lost interest very quickly. And again, I just didn’t want to side with this movie. I had empathy towards the character Billy Beane … but not Moneyball.
Rating: 6 out of 10 (‘Meh’)