Moneyball Review

By: Bryan Montgomery
Rating: 9 out of 10

In 2002, Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s defied baseball by winning 20 straight games, winning the American League West after stumbling out of the gate.  In 2003, Michael Lewis wrote Moneyball, which described how Beane used an unorthodox method to piece together a competitive team with a low payroll.  In the film adaptation of this book, Brad Pitt stars as Beane in one of the best sports movies of the last 20 years.   Moneyball mixes in humor, heart, and the love of the game into one great spectacle that both fans and non-fans will enjoy.

After losing to the Yankees in the American League Divisional Series (ALDS) in 2001, Beane loses his three best players to large-market teams with big payrolls.  Using a new sabermetric system, Beane puts together a team with a payroll under $40 Million.

As a baseball fan, I was biting into every second of this film.  The majesty in which it handles the strengths of the game and the way that it handles the game’s current issues are both flawless and truly speak to the inner fan in all of us.  As a Red Sox fan, I realize how nice it is to have the high payroll, and how much it would suck to be one of the “bottom barrel” teams.  Billy Beane knew that he had to do something crazy, and Brad Pitt did a great job personifying one of the biggest game-changers in recent baseball history.

Pitt uses the opportunity to make a two-sided character.  Side one is his general manager side, a ruthless but logical boss that makes moves for the betterment of the team.  His relationship with Art Howe (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) is strained at times, and he continuously pleads for additional funds with his owner to no avail, but he is simply a man doing his job.  The best scene in the film is when the team is losing early in the season, and Beane enters Howe’s clubhouse to tell the manager that his starting first baseman has just been traded, just before calling in another player to notify him he’s been traded.  All this while Howe just stands there, a look of pure desire for murder on his face. That, ladies and gents is cinema.

A high amount of attention has to be paid to how Pitt plays the character in and outside the presence of others.  The first scene of the film has Pitt sitting in the empty stadium listening to the radio broadcast of the final outs of the ALDS, turning the radio on and off during the final moments.  Moments like this are compared to him coming into the clubhouse in the midst of a losing streak, where he smacks a stereo speaker and has a chat with his team.  But the real Beane comes through with the great scenes involving father and daughter.

Those small moments, which in some film would completely derail the plot manage to piece everything together well, and helps the audience understand the true motivations behind why Beane wants to be successful and do a good job in Oakland.  The spectrum of Beane’s character keeps him interesting and unpredictable.

Jonah Hill does a great job adding humor and the mathematical edge to the film as Peter Brand.  A recent college graduate who is thrown into a role as the assistant GM (he is a fictionalized character) has the advantages of helping Beane put together the team and also the harsh nature of baseball when he has to cut players.  From the first scene that he is in to the final scene of the film, Brand commands the brain and the logic of the environment, as well as the humor.  But you realize that he believes in the point that he is driving, and he wants this new and crazy plan to succeed.

What makes the film is the story of how these two men simply change the game of baseball by defying the norm.  These stories have been seen left and right in the history of cinema, with individual A going against the grain established by group B, and individual A proving everyone wrong in the end.  This is that story, only with baseball thrown in the middle.  The action of the game is there, and the internal conflicts within a team are present as well.  The scene where David Justice checks the Pepsi machine to find out he has to pay for his soda is pretty funny.  The same goes for Beane’s recruitment of the players, especially Scott Hatteberg, a catcher with a busted elbow who becomes the A’s first baseman.

The final thirty minutes of Moneyball is a testament of love for the game of baseball.  Not going into much detail a major choice plagues Beane, one similar to the choice he made back when he graduated high school.  In any normal sub-par film this is where the plot would fall apart.  But even for someone who knew what was coming next, Pitt’s depiction of Beane’s internal struggles really made the movie.  This is a guy who loves baseball more than anything else, and doesn’t need money to prove it.  As Pitt puts it near the end of the film, Moneyball isn’t about making money or winning championships, it is about changing a centuries old game.

For any baseball fan, Moneyball is a must-see film.  It is a great story, an interesting story and one supported by a star-studded cast doing the best that they can.  The film never really slows down and you get an inside look at what a general manager’s life may look like when his team is a bottom dweller.  Regardless of which team you root for, or if you can’t even tell me if Detroit’s professional baseball team is the Tigers or the Lions, everyone will find something to like in Moneyball. It’s just a great film, and it’s a home run.

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