"Moneyball" just misses the strike zone
I love historical, biographical and most any non-fiction books and a cursory glace of my home library will find all kinds of sports-related titles.
Among my favorites, is Michael Lewis' 2004 "Moneyball," which documented Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane and his efforts to buck baseball's economic system in the hopes of building a winner.
While I love books along those lines, I'm always very skeptical when they're turned into movies. Films based upon true stories, especially those with which I'm familiar, always seem to leave me a little disappointed.
So when it was announced that "Moneyball" would be turned into a feature film, I was admittedly skeptical. I didn't know how I'd handle Brad Pitt as Beane. Would I be able to take him seriously? Same for Jonah Hill, who I just don't particularly care for as an actor.
All that said, I liked "Moneyball." I just think I would have liked it much more had I never read the book. While I understand the difficulty in condensing material into a tidy package (the movie has a runtime of just over two hours) and the need to make it presentable for both the baseball fan and general public, alike, I felt that the movie skimmed over a lot of key parts.
For instance, there was barely a mention of the 2002 Major League Baseball Entry Draft, which made up a sizable chunk of Lewis' book. The A's success in that draft (which also, by the way was the same draft in which the Brewers selected Prince Fielder) has been heralded by many in the baseball community, but got just a passing reference near the end of the picture.
That was disappointing, as drafting players was a big part of Beane's strategy. It was also the source of some of the biggest conflict between Beane and his scouting staff.
What the movie also failed to mention was the genesis of Beane's interest in the Moneyball concept. There was a brief mention of Bill James, whose Baseball Abstract was a major influence in Beane's philosophy, but that was about it. Just a few quick moments and on to the next scene.
In general, the movie had something of a cut-and-paste feel to it. We got glimpses of key parts of the book, like Beane's efforts to land Cleveland left-hander Ricardo Rincon. In the book, the storyline was intriguing as Beane worked the phones, and his fellow GMs against each other.
In the movie, we see the strife between Beane and A's owner Steve Schott, his scouting staff and even his manager, coaches and players. But we don't see that strife develop. It's quick and too the point, but lacks any sort of explanation, other than differing philosophies.
But all of that aside, and looking from the film strictly as an entertainment vehicle and not any sort of historical narrative, it served its purpose. The film was entertaining, interesting and, on occasion funny.
Pitt's performance was good enough to not leave you thinking you were watching Brad Pitt play a baseball executive. His portrayal of Beane was at times intense, almost deep. The scenes between Beane and his daughter, though they felt out of place, were heartfelt, and he did a good job channeling the angst Beane felt during games (choosing to avoid them at all costs).
Phillip Seymour Hoffman was good as A's manager Art Howe. His role wasn't big, but if they're is anything Hoffman excels at, it's portraying those integral background characters. Again, you didn't see much of Hoffman – Howe – but when you did, it was a good performance.
Even Hill, playing Peter Brand, put forth a good performance. His character was based on Beane's assistant, Paul De Podesta who would later go on to a unimpressive two-year stint as the Dodgers' GM. De Podesta asked that he not be included in the movie, so the Brand character was created instead.
"Moneyball" is a good movie. It is. It has some flaws to it, but unfortunately, that's what happens in Hollywood. I get the feeling that the movie version is more a story about the A's winning 20 straight games than it is about the overall movement and philosophy, which is fine in the grand scheme of things.
But while I admit I liked the movie, I still suggest the book. It's a must-read for anyone who really enjoys baseball and will serve as a good follow-up once you've seen the movie.
A few other thoughts:
- OK, so I've already covered Hoffman's version of Art Howe who, by the way, sure did look rather pedestrian in his two years with the Mets. We saw Ron Washington, now manager of the Rangers in the film, but a third coach, tall and slender and wearing glasses, stood in silence in the back of several scenes. Could that have been Ken Macha, who was Howe's bench coach in Oakland?
- My professors at UW-Oshkosh will appreciate this; I struggled to understand Bennett Miller's methods of shooting. The movie seemed dark and gloomy, which didn't make a lot of sense to me.
- Aaron Sorkin rewrote the script and this kind of added to my interest. But the finished product was very un-Sorkin-like; it lacked the witty, snappy back-and-forth that is Sorkin's trademark. I'm not sure if it would have added to the film, but the absence was noticeable.
- One similarity between the book and the film: neither version paid much attention to the fact that the A's, though they lost Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon and Jason Isringhausen, still had Barry Zito, Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder – all in their prime and early in their careers – atop the rotation and AL MVP Miguel Tejada in the lineup. So it wasn't exactly a bunch of garbage heap players that came together to win 103 games. Beane had some talent on the squad.
Theaters and showtimes for Moneyball
MONEYBALL is a great movie--i throughly enjoyed it. Had no idea what to expect but sure liked it. Highly recommend it. Certainly, it will be nominated for a best movie academy award. It deserves such an honor.
Ahhh...I see sandstorm posted yet another onmilwaukee snarkified comment that everyone loves reading. I can't WAIT for the next one! Can't wait!
"#timing" ahhh...i see aardvark has jumped on the twitterfied version of the tired cliche "epic fail".
Didn't this movie come out in September? I'm looking for the Rise of the Planet of the Apes review next. #timing
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