Review: “Moneyball” is a winner

September 23rd, 2011 at 1:20 pm by under Entertainment

 ”Moneyball” is a great movie that hits a homerun – taking audiences on a journey that pits the little guys versus the big guys, its a underdog story that’s fun for everyone, but its a must-see for baseball fans … and its likely to become one of the most popular baseball movies in history.

Look for some Oscar buzz around the acting performance of Brad Pitt, the Directing of Bennett Miller, the writing of Steven Zaillian & Aaron Sorkin, and the movie as a whole.

"Moneyball" poster courtesy Columbia Pictures

  (My spoiler-free review)

Much like “The Social Network”, the filmmakers took the business side of baseball and made it interesting for all audiences… and like other successful sports movies that appeal to both fans and general audiences, the focus is more about what happens off the field than on the field.

“Moneyball” takes us back to the end of the 2001 baseball season, when the Oakland A’s were in the American League Divison Series against the Yankees, it was a team with a payroll of $39 million versus a team with a payroll of $114 million.

I’m not giving much away by saying the A’s lost the series that wrapped up about a month after September 11th… when the Yankees almost seemed destined to move on after the events of September 11th.  But, the A’s lost more than the series, their season ended with a loss and they lost three of the best players on the team: Jason Giambi to the Yankees, Johnny Damon to the Boston Red Sox, and Jason Isringhausen to the St. Louis Cardinals.

While the movie doesn’t get bogged down in all the details of how the players were lost, it does just enough for fans and non-baseball fans to get the gravity of the situation that the Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) was put in during the offseason following the 2001 ALDS loss to the Yankees.

“Moneyball” gives us fans and non-fans an education of the game within the game of baseball… something we haven’t really seen much before… a focus on the general manager, the scouts, and the management side of baseball business.  Trade proposals, free agent signings, phone call with agents, and roster cuts might not seem like an interesting subject to all audiences, but woven into this story, they become fascinating details of Beane’s day-to-day struggle.

If you didn’t already know, the Oakland A’s are a small market team, meaning their payroll is traditionally one-third of big market teams… so Beane is handcuffed by an owner in a small market that is not willing to pay more money to be competitive.  Its this David versus Goliath mentality that draws the audience in… to start really caring about the business side of baseball… and be sympathetic of Beane.

Brad Pitt is great as Billy Beane, he creates a shrewd and charismatic character with many complicated layers as a former star prospect, a GM struggling to compete with a small payroll, and a father struggling to balance baseball career and his relationship with his 12 year old daughter.

Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill in "Moneyball" photo courtesy Columbia Pictures

Pitt is supported by Jonah Hill’s solid turn as Peter Brand, plus Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s quiet role as A’s manager Art Howe, Kerris Dorsey as his daughter Casey, the cantankerous group of scouts and player development team (Jack McGee, Vyto Ruginis, Nick Searcy, Glenn Morshower, etc), plus a good cast of actors and former players as baseball players, including Chris Pratt (as Scott Hatteberg) and Stephen Bishop (as David Justice).

The movie also signals a change in the business of building baseball teams as the older scouts push back against Beane’s plan – they are set in their old school ways of evaluating talent based on the player’s age, appearance, personality, and observed abilities.

Director Bennett Miller and writers Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin should be proud of their little movie and its $47 million budget… just a little more than the Oakland A’s had to play with in 2001… although, ironically, in the movie business they would be more of a medium budget team (the last two Oscar Best Picture winners – “The King’s Speech” and “The Hurt Locker” – had budgets under $20 million).

“Moneyball” wins by using baseball language to a point of being credible, without losing the non-fans … a good mix of re-created baseball scenes edited together with actual highlights and news footage plus the use of sound (elements on camera and off camera like announcers or fans reaction on sports radio)… and I give it big props for the non-use of sound (adding depth to a moment where everything goes quiet before everything gets loud again).   There are a lot of nice visual touches and dialogue to keep the story moving and baseball fans intrigued.  The emotions of the team’s losses and wins appeal to the emotions of the entire audience, not just baseball fans.

THE BOTTOM LINE:

You don’t need to be a baseball fan to enjoy this movie, as it focuses 80% of the movie on what’s going on off the field with the relationships of the people involved with the business side of baseball… I give it 9.0 out of 10. “Moneyball” hits on all notes: entertaining and engaging story, with interesting characters, solid acting, great script, good cinematography, it has the look and feel down with costumes/sets/props.   The only real weakness is the re-created baseball action scenes, but the filmmakers covered some of it up with actual game highlights to strengthen their movie.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Manager Art Howe in "Moneyball" photo courtesy Columbia Pictures

 “Moneyball”

(2011) (rated: PG-13 for some strong language)
(2 hrs, 13 min)

Starring: Brad Pitt (Billy Beane), Robin Wright, Jonah Hill (Peter Brand), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Art Howe),
Chris Pratt (Scott Hatteberg), Stephen Bishop (David Justice), Brent Jennings (Ron Washington), Ken Medlock (head scout Grady Fuson), Tammy Blanchard, Jack McGee, Vyto Ruginis, Nick Searcy, Glenn Morshower, Casey Bond (Chad Bradford),  Nick Porrazzo (Jeremy Giambi), Kerris Dorsey, Takayo Fischer, Derrin Ebert (Mike Magnante), Miguel Mendoza (Ricardo Rincon), Adrian Bellani (Carlos Peña), Art Ortiz (Eric Chavez), Royce Clayton (Miguel Tejada), Marvin Horn (Terrence Long), Brent Dohling (Mark Ellis), Robert Ninfo (Eric Byrnes), Gary Johnson (Jermaine Dye), Michael Gillespie (coach Ken Macha), Chad Kreuter (coach Rick Peterson), Corey Vanderhook (Ramon Hernandez), Melvin Perdue (Ray Durham), Ari Zagaris (Jim Mecir), Reed Diamond (Indians GM Mark Shapiro), Bobby Kotick (A’s owner Steve Schott)

Director: Bennett Miller  ["Capote" (2005)]

Writers: Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network”)
Based on Michael Lewis’ book “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game”

Genre: Sports Biography/Drama

The Plot: Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane works to put together a baseball club on a budget by employing computer-generated analysis to draft his players.

So what did you think?  Please post a comment!

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“Moneyball” poster and photos courtesy Columbia Pictures

Laff at the Movies

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