It’s all in the stats
Moviescramble takes a swing at the 2011 award baiting drama Moneyball.
I must admit that I do not known very much about Baseball. I know the basics of the game but the intricacies, the stats and the language of the game are a bit of a mystery to me. So my approach to the baseball movie Moneyball was based on anecdotal information obtained mainly from US TV and previous baseball movies. The concern was that my lack of background knowledge would be a hindrance to my enjoyment of the film. Thankfully not.
The film tracks the 2002 season of the Oakland Athletics baseball team. The A’s general manager, Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), is faced with the fact that after a relatively successful season he is losing three of his star players to bigger teams and is in the financial position that he cannot afford to bring in big name players as replacements. Year on year there is no continuity and he is forced to rebuild. In planning for the forthcoming season he is increasingly frustrated at the options presented to him by his scouting and coaching staff. He needs another way to put a winning team out in the field.
At a meeting with a rival team to sell one of his players, he is introduced to Peter Brand (Jonah Hill). Peter is an economics graduate who believes that the key to a successful team lies in the stats. If you have a group of players that can continue to produce their averages in their specific roles then the team will be winners. Peter has figured out that this can be achieved at relatively low-cost compared to the sums paid by the Major teams. In fact it went against everything that baseball as a sport believed in. Billy and Peter face major hurdles in order to put their ideas into practice. They face opposition from the head Coach (Philip Seymour Hoffman) all of the coaching staff, the media and of course the fans hungry for success.
As I have said my background to baseball involved Bull Durham, Major League, Field of Dreams and The Natural. So not exactly comprehensive. I still enjoyed the film as was engaged in the story from very early in the film. This was down to two reasons The story itself and the acting talent on screen.
Based on real events (as almost everything seems to be these days!!) and the book Moneyball: The art of winning an unfair game, the story is brought to life by another great screenplay from the pen of Aaron Sorkin alongside the prolific screenwriter Steven Zallian. Between them they have created a screenplay that works on many levels. Foremost it tells the story in a way that the non baseball fans can understand and enjoy. This is cleverly done through the main character Billy Beane. He needs the basics of the theory explained to him allowing the audience to gain the same information. For a sports movie there is a lack of actual baseball action. Billy does not watch the games. He thinks it bad luck. So we spend the game time with him and his ritual of avoiding the game except on TV or the radio. Apparently there is enough in the film for the fans of the sport. There are a lot of references that appeal to the fans and allow them to enjoy the film at another level entirely.
Brad Pitt gives one of the best performances of his career in the title role. There are not grand gestures or scenery chewing in his approach to the role. He naturally draws you in to his performance using small moves, stillness and body language. It’s good that his performance is receiving a lot of praise. He certainly puts in the effort. Jonah Hill is also on top of his game. In a rare straight role he captures the essence of the character. Equal parts certainty of youth, computer geek and total baseball fan. I hope this will encourage him to continue to take risks and seek out other roles that will stretch his range. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays the part of the old school head coach who is rabidly against the change in style with his usual fantastic performance. With his shaven head and unflattering (to be kind!!!) physique. He is completely believable.
In conclusion a terrific film that delivers for fans and non fans of baseball. Recommended.