Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Love: Moneyball

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“It’s hard not to be romantic about baseball.”   Or, so says Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) at a couple key moments in Moneyball.   Though in context I could see what he was getting at, and for many people this appears to be quite true, I have to admit: it’s damn easy for me not to romanticize baseball.   You may be able to romanticize the players or the fans, the upset of not winning or the pain of coming so close, but that’s not unique to the game.  And, I mean, the game?  Call me un-American or whatever but, oh man, how loudly would you like to hear me snore?  Needless to say: I’m not a sports person.   I've never read Michael Lewis's book, can't fathom a reality in which I'd pick it up, have no recollection of the Oakland A’s 20-game win streak in 2002, didn’t recognize the names of any of the players mentioned in the film, and can only tell you that at some point in the last decade the Boston Red Sox won the World Series.  I remember that.  I remember that because of Fever Pitch, probably.  I’ve tried to find something interesting about baseball.  Really, I have.  One time I went to a game.  Just once.  It was only a couple years ago. The food was good.  I went back for something different during each inning.  I'd say I consumed probably about 30000 calories and four times my body weight.  I could romanticize the processed cheese sauce on my nachos, perhaps, the way it tasted paired with my Coca Cola slushee, but not the game I saw.   It was a White Sox game.  I don’t remember who they played, but they lost I think.  I'm pretty sure.
While I'm not a sports person, I am a movie person.  If you filter something through celluloid, you've got at least a fighting chance at catching my interest.  So, despite my complete lack of interest in athletic achievement (specifically on teams), sometimes I’ll watch a sports-based movie.  Moneyball had me at Aaron Sorkin.  Sorkin, for what it’s worth, has a remarkable knack for writing screenplays capable of making you care about something you possibly didn’t think you cared about before.  He finds the humanity in facts and figures, and can make seemingly anything into a tense, dialogue-heavy, numbers thriller.  So, I figured that if anyone were capable of making me care about baseball accounting, it could be Aaron Sorkin working with Brad Pitt, and Jonah Hill.  I was sort of right, though I can’t say the film managed anything particularly miraculous. Let's put it this way: Moneyball's script is no Social Network.  Its characters have a charm and a sort of good old boy arrogance about them, but they're nowhere near as compelling as the fast talking techies and undergrads of Fincher-lit Harvard.  


For those as out of the loop as I was, Moneyball is the story of  Oakland Athletic's manager Billy Beane and the numbers game that supposedly changed baseball back in 2002.  After yet another losing season and another debilitating trading loss, the A's are left with a minimal budget and no hope.  As they run through the options, going over which potential players will draw the biggest numbers, Beane accidentally uncovers Peter Brand, a recent Yale graduate with a theory that a winning team could be built from cut-rate players no one else would consider taking.  I won't tell you whether or not it works out, but considering it inspired a book and a movie, you can take a stab at how that pans out.  It's part business drama and part inspirational underdog tale.  I'll say this much:  it's paced well, frequently cuts through the baseball aspects, and Brad Pitt is smartly cast.  I say this even though I can't really think of the last time he wasn't perfectly cast.  Was it Troy?  Probably.  Pitt's an actor capable of exuding an irritating confidence in one moment, and undercutting it with a self-loathing uncertainty in the next.  As Beane, he needs all of that.   
Ultimately, it should come as no surprise that Moneyball is an extremely competent film.  From a technical standpoint, in the realm of Oscar concerns, it's a champion. Smart dialogue, sharp performances, a muted Jonah Hill, and a story that appeals to a common societal denominator.  It's good, really just tremendously solid, but it's not the sort of good that incites any sort of genuine enthusiasm from me.  One thing that bothered me, however, was the repeated, thematic use of Australian singer/songwriter Lenka's song "The Show."  The track is from 2008, yet Beane's daughter knows it by heart in 2002.  It's a glaring oversight, in my opinion.  Either that or, you know, someone's hinting at a use of time travel.  Who wants to develop the theory that Jonah Hill's hiding a time machine somewhere?

1 comment:

  1. Totally agree with your assessment. Thoroughly competent but I didn't any one aspect particularly exceptional. For example, Brad Pitt is solid as Billy Beane but I didn't find his performance to be transcendent or nearly as good as his work in The Tree of Life for example. Good review!

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