One of my favourite classes in college was statistics. Probability and percentages were always something that interests me. I also consider myself a fan of baseball. Combine both of these and what do you get? Fantasy Baseball. What you also get the new movie Moneyball, which is based on the novel by Michael Lewis, a financial journalist who used his knowledge to look at the science of baseball.
The movie stars Brad Pitt as Billy Beane, the General Manager of the Oakland Athletics. They were team with about one seventh of the budget as other big names, like the Yankees and the Red Sox. The movie starts on the date of October 15, 2001, when the Yankees beat the Wild card team Oakland 3 games to 2, to eventually move onto the World Series. (FYI, they lost to the Arizona Diamondbacks that year in the World Series). The movie focuses on the A’s, where they just lost their top three players to other teams; Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon and Jason Isringhausen. Without a budget that matches the big name teams, they decided to do what most businesses do with small budgets, spend their money on cheap products, i.e. Players. The rest of this paragraph is a spoiler, just a heads up. Although they didn’t make it past the first round of the playoffs, they still made the record of the biggest winning streak in the American League with 20 consecutive wins.
They did this, by reevaluating how to calculate the players worth, and looking at other methods of measurements. One prime example, used in the movie, is the on-base percentage (OBP), something that teams look at now. They do all these analysis with the “character”, Peter Brand, played by a far more humble and far more likable Jonah Hill. Brand is supposed to be an economics major, who gets a job with the Cleveland Indians, and hired by Beane himself to help the Oakland team. As the new players are chosen, we get a sense that no one has faith in the new system, including coach Art Howe, played by the always great Philip Seymour Hoffman.
There’s also a lot of side stories, one where they montage Beane’s own career as a player (which, if you look at the stats, they’re not that bad), and also the relationship with his daughter. The first side story has a point about how scouts can’t see the whole picture, and his career is a fine example of looking impressive in the minors, but doesn’t pan out in the practical standpoint when in the majors. The daughter angle seemed like it was done many times before in other movies, and doesn’t help move the story, and kind of derails the plot at times.
Now, with a movie like this, we can go on and on about the inconsistencies and inaccuracies about the movie, but Sports Illustrated already did an expose on the film’s content. But it’s a dramatic representation of the season at hand, so they gives the producers and directors poetic justice. But keep in mind one thing about the movie. Hill’s character, Peter Brand, is a made up character for the movie. In fact, a lot of baseball experts say he’s supposed to be Beane’s assistant general manager, Paul DePodesta. The real DePodesta didn’t like how he was portrayed. They could have gone with full 100% accuracy, but it would more likely be a documentary than a drama movie. And also keep in mind, the book was a technical looking at the theory of Moneyball, it wasn’t a story. And if the movie was just the statistics, it would just be a Powerpoint presentation instead of a movie.
Brad Pitt was great as usual, and he played the person perfectly. No doubt the movie would be a hell of a lot worse without him. Philip Hoffman seems like he never fails to play any role right and this was no exception. But the breakout role was Jonah Hill, who surprisingly had a great performance. I’m not a huge fan of his comedies, so it’s good to see him in a pretty serious role, with the occasional comedy quip. He keeps this up, and he’ll have a great career.
Overall, the movie was good, but before you start to do so, it would be unfair to compare it to other classic baseball movies, like Field of Dreams, Bull Durham and the Natural. Those movies were more about the baseball game, and Moneyball was more about the backstage drama of the game. It helps to like baseball to know what’s going on in the movie, but even if you don’t, you still might enjoy the movie. It wouldn’t shock me if the movie gets into Oscar discussions, but I wouldn’t put any money on it. It’s an unsafe bet. But it’s definitely a good movie to watch, either in the theatre or Netflix, or however you watch movies.
Postscript: I had a chance to watch this with Puneet from Two Guys One Movie a Day, please check out his review as well