It’s a nearly perfect vessel for almost any story arc: Rags to riches, overcoming hardship, achieving greatness, falling from grace, hitting bottom, then overcoming your self-inflicted hardships in order to once again achieve greatness. It’s the American dream.
Of course, usually these stories are told through the players, with a heavy curtain hiding the harsh reality of major league baseball, a necessary evil which we romantics choose not to think about–the money.
“Moneyball” takes a step behind that curtain. This film, based on a true story and the book “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game,” by Michael Lewis, is a lesson in strategy, statistics, and believing in the odds.
Today, the New York Yankees are worth 1.7 billion dollars, back in 2001 when they defeated the Oakland A’s in the ALDS they were worth only (if that word’s appropriate here) about 114 million. The A’s were worth a measly 39 million.
After this frustrating post-season loss, followed by the loss of his three star players-Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon, and Jason Isringhausen- to wealthier organizations, Oakland’s GM Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) is fed up with the finances of baseball. When he finds Pete (Jonah Hill), a baseball mind with an economic degree, in Cleveland he brings him back to Oakland and changes the way baseball is managed.
Baseball is of course a game of strategy, but Billy and Pete reinvent that strategy, focusing solely on getting their players on base, and doing that with some of the most undervalued (i.e. cheap) players in the game. Scott Hatteberg (Chris Pratt) a former catcher with a nerve damaged arm is brought on to play first base, Jeremy Giambi (Nick Porrazzo) younger brother of Jason, and David Justice (Stephen Bishop) a 36-year-old veteran deemed too old by most organizations fill out their roster.
Of course, they’re met with a whole lot of resistance. The scouts are angsty, the manager, Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffmann), is defiant of the change, and the fans are simply tired of seeing their team lose. But really, what’s baseball without the fans being annoyed with management?
As the groundbreaking duo, Pitt and Hill are mind-blowing, and have been appropriately recognized by the Academy for being so. Of course they have a wonderful script from Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian to work with, but the two of them have perfect timing. Perhaps it’s the oddness of their pairing, but they give this movie an incredibly strong and witty foundation.
You might think seeing how the proverbial sausage is made would ruin the magic of the game. It doesn’t. The politics and hierarchy of baseball could very easily be disenchanting, but a balance is found. Trades are presented as mind games and word play, there’s humor in the casualness of rearranging people’s lives. It would appear as though the business of baseball is in fact a game.
This movie captures the triumphs and frustrations of the game and presents it from a unique perspective. While the fans may not always agree with the decisions made without our consent, perhaps some insight will help us appreciate the effort…perhaps.
Check out more of 2WC’s film reviews: The Crusade on Cinema