Posted January 11, 2012 by Daniel Hodgson in
While there is happiness and sadness at the teams wins and loses, it’s not elation and despair.
General Manager Billy Beane hates to lose. After losing an elimination game and three of his best players, Beane pleads with Oakland A’s owner to get more money to recruit the top talent, but he’s told to do the best he can with what little they have. When Beane makes an in-person visit to the Cleveland Indians to recruit new blood, the deal nearly goes through, but one word from Peter Brand, their player analyst, and the deal is off. What could Brand have said to make them keep a player they almost traded? Beane wonders.
It turns out Brand (Jonah Hill) knows what players are worth, from a purely statistical perspective. He ignores looks, off-field behavior, sportsmanship, fan-favorites. All he cares about are players getting bases and getting runs—in short, winning. Beane (Brad Pitt) hires Brand, as he’s exactly what the A’s need; someone who thinks outside-the-box. Against the advice of his older, more experienced scouts, he makes unorthodox management decisions, hiring and firing based on young Brand’s mathematical projections. But A’s manager Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman) resists the strategy, and after a series of loses, the owner has doubts, and Beane may lose his job.
I can get behind the idea of Moneyball, but much like sabermetrics, the mathematical foundations of “moneyball,” it’s a terrific idea—on paper. Moneyball is about man vs. institution, the underdog team vs. a game that is rigged against them, radical thinking vs. tradition. But Moneyball doesn’t successfully dramatize its ideas. Much of what actually happens can be described as Beane sitting at his desk and having meetings over the phone while Brand stares at his laptop. Beane is often shown driving and listening to baseball commentators on the radio; what we see isn’t important, but rather what we hear—a sign of a film that’s not adapting from book to screen well. There’s several scenes of meetings that just go on and on. Moneyball is so talky it might work well as a play, but as a film, it borders on leaden.
Moneyball isn’t so much about baseball drama as a drama about the business of baseball. Beane keeps his players at a distance, as he knows he must be able to fire them if it’s in the team’s best interest. The problem is that we’re so anchored in Beane’s shoes that we see little of the players ourselves, so when Beane trades, hires and fires players, we haven’t seen enough of them for it to have much impact on us. It’s not about the Oakland A’s, but the man behind the team. Statistics flash and fly across the scene; we don’t see much of players playing baseball. While there is happiness and sadness at the teams wins and loses, it’s not elation and despair.