Sunday, February 26, 2012

Movie Review- Moneyball

With the 84th annual Academy Awards taking place tonight in LA, it seemed like as good of a time as any to take some time to review the only sports related film* on the billing: Moneyball

 *Ignoring the fact that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo star, and Best Actress Nominee, Rooney Mara is the great-grand daughter of NFL royalty- the Steelers' founder Art Rooney Sr. and the New York Giants' founders Tim Mara.

Moneyball begins in late 2001 as the Oakland A's are taking on the New York Yankees in the playoffs, with footage of Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon taking their last at bats as members of the A's.  It's not long after they, and pitcher Jason Isringhausen, sign long and expensive deals with other teams that the A's have no hope of matching.  This sets up the main conflict of Moneyball: How does such a poor team replace such expensive players?

Brad Pitt as Billy Beane
Doing his best to control a room and push his team in the right direction, A's GM Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) searches out to not replace the three best players, but find players who will fit their mold.  It's in this quest that he has a chance meeting with economics major Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a special assistant with the Cleveland Indians.  A brief conversation with Brand has Beane intrigued with the way Brand approaches the game.  Soon, Brand is a member of the A's.

The search for not the best player but the right player is the focus is not only Brand's approach, using various forms of metrics and algorithms consisting of an emphasis on reaching base, but also the approach of Beane.  His past as a highly touted prospect who fizzled out with the Mets, Twins, Tigers and A's drives him to look beyond the flash of the players who look great but aren't really players.

Using the unique approach created by Brand retreads and maybe-will-be's like Scott Hatteberg (Parks and Recreation's Chris Pratt), David Justice (Stephen Bishop), and Miguel Tejada (former MLB All Star Royce Clayton) sign contracts to be a part of the new Oakland A's.

Jonah Hill as Peter Brand
Early season woes follow the new team as they look to find their way under a hesitant manager in Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman).  When Howe doesn't listen to the requests of Beane in playing certain players, focusing on things such as their ability to get on base as opposed to their raw ability, Beane takes drastic measures.  He goes as far as trading a young, potential All Star (whom you know as Carlos Pena) just to get him out of the line up so Howe no longer plays him.

It isn't long after these changes that things begin to fall into place.  The A's begin to surge.  Win after win after win piles up and their record grows and grows.  Suddenly they find themselves on the verge of history, knocking on the door of an MLB record 20 consecutive wins, a feat they attain in a 12-11 victory over the Kansas City Royals, whose winning run was a home run knocked in by Hatteberg.

The movie ends solemnly, however.  The A's would go on to lose once again in the playoffs, this time to the Minnesota Twins.  The small market team is once again vanquished in the first round of the playoffs.  It is all for naught.

Chris Pratt as Scott Hatteberg
Working on a script from the always reliable Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, The Social Network, SportsNight) from the 2003 book by Michael Lewis, the dialogue is the usual sharp and witty while insightful and bright.  The main actors in the film, Pitt and Hill, pair well together.  The quiet confidence of Pitt as Beane meshes rather well with the unsure, awkward of Jonah Hill's Brand.  Other characters, however, are not as flashed out.  The back story of Beane's family life, a daughter from an ex-wife, is never fully fleshed out and lends little to the character growth of Beane.

Nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay, Moneyball is no slouch of a film.  In the end its biggest flaw is just that, the end.  There is no major pay off.  There is no fairy tale ending.  The A's go on to lose in the playoffs as usual.  It remains true to the real tale, as hollow as it may feel.  However, the lack of trophy for the players shouldn't mean a lack of trophies for the film.
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