Moneyball is a statement against human intuition when it comes to the world of sports, in particular baseball. It lays down the theory that games can be won not by instinct, experience, or talent, but by computers, numbers, statistics, odds, and percentages. Needless to say, this theory incites controversy. How can numbers trump years and years of experience? How can you listen to an inanimate object instead of a room full of seasoned baseball scouts?
Easy. You just don’t.
I’ve been a follower of baseball for almost 11 years, which isn’t very long considering many fanatics out there have been following it since before they were conceived — and so I walked in to Moneyball knowing what I was in for without really knowing what I was in for. 2003 was my first season, and the events of this movie take place in 2001 and 2002.
The story revolves around the Oakland Athletics, the poorest team in the majors — “There are rich teams, then there’s 50ft of crap, and then there’s us”. They’ve just come from an agonising loss in the playoffs and now their star players are being sold to richer teams for peanuts. In the scouts office all the old men bicker and argue about who to buy as replacements. In steps general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) and his nerdy Yale economics graduate Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), who has never played a game of baseball in his life. They interrupt the proceedings with sabermetrics, a form of statistical analysis that sorts players according to their production value and not their skill.
Billy Beane is a hard character. He grew up with the belief that he was meant to play baseball. He even gave up a scholarship at Stanford to play for the Mets. But his career didn’t pan out, so he took to management. He doesn’t like to lose, nor does he like to mingle with his players. They’re easier to fire this way. When a game is on, he’s driving around aimlessly listening to the radio instead of being at the stadium. His marriage is over, and now he pays most of his personal life’s attention to the happiness of his daughter (Kerris Dorsey), who brightens her scenes by being a sweet and polite little girl. Too often we are given brats for children in the movies; it gets annoying after a while.
Peter Brand is the opposite. He’s shy and unsure of himself. He exerts his opinions from behind a social wall, but his strength is that he believes wholeheartedly in his craft. This could be due to the fact that computers and numbers are all he’s ever known. One of the movie’s great tensions arrives when Art Howe (the invaluable Philip Seymour Hoffman), the A’s manager, decides to forego young Peter’s savvy in favour of his own know-how and experience. Some of Moneyball’s best scenes involve Billy, Peter, and Art playing mind games as one tries to outdo the other.
The movie is directed by Bennett Miller and is co-written by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin. Miller directed the biographical Capote, with Hoffman in the title role, and while I have yet to see it, I am aware that Miller’s fascination with true events lends a strong foundation to both films. Moneyball is a very intelligent movie, and its screenplay is grounded in truth and fact. As I was watching it with my brother on blu ray, he commented that the events of the story almost seem tailored for an adaptation into a movie. It’s not such a crazy thought. Seldom do life’s events progress in an order that borrows its flow from the cliches of Hollywood.
The A’s go on a 20-game winning streak, which is a big deal in the game of baseball. It’s a big deal in any sport. What’s great about Moneyball is how the attention of this achievement is not drawn to the players on the field or to the manager sitting in the dugout, but to the GM and nerd sitting behind the scenes, in their air-conditioned offices, sipping coffee as if it were free. We are shown the game behind the game; the mechanics of a sport that everyone loves but few really understand. I myself have been enlightened by Moneyball. Baseball is a different sport to me now. I’ve wanted to be a shortstop for the better part of 11 years. Now I’m not so sure.
Best Moment | It’s all great. There are standout moments — like when Billy interrupts Jeremy Giambi’s dance in the locker room, or when Billy hustles other GMs over the phone — but the movie is, in general, nigh flawless.
Worst Moment | Nope.