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Movies Worth Seeing: Moneyball (2011) October 9, 2011

Posted by Jim Berkin in Baseball, Movies.
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I don’t go to the movies anywhere near as much as I used to. Oh, back in the day, when ticket prices were cheaper and I was interested a lot more in what mainstream Hollywood product & art house fare there was, I’d see a few dozen films a year in the theater.

Now it’s down to maybe two or three. Once friends of mine with free admission via WGA membership or the like start making the rounds during awards season, I’ll go a little more, but it takes a lot for me to spend $11 and up on something I could easily enjoy on the big ol’ flat screen in the comfort of my own home. No idiots on cellphones, no trailers for such absolute utter SHIT that I feel like I’m taking body blows every time another one comes up…. no people. I think that’s the key.

But with some bucks left on a gift card, I went to Moneyball the other night, figuring I love baseball enough to enjoy it, and I turned out to be right.

While it takes a lot of liberties with the actual story of Billy Beane’s sabermetric approach to saving payroll with the Oakland A’s of 2002 (and beyond), the story is solid and you’re rooting for the mavericks (personified by Brad Pitt as Beane ans Jonah Hill as a fictional numbers wonk based on Paul DePodesta) against the old ‘n’ stodgy (personified by aging scouts and a rather overweight Philip Seymour Hoffman as Oakland field manager Art Howe).

Beane & DePodesta applied the numbers & stat crunching theories of Bill James to putting parts of their roster together and their mixed success with it led a lot of other teams to try the same methods, especially richer teams like the Red Sox (who hired Bill James) and the Yankees. What the movie implies is that all of the A’s successes in ’02 came from such moves, when in reality a lot of the better players on that team, like their pitching rotation of Hudson-Mulder-Zito, as well as hitters Miguel Tejada & Eric Chavez, had been there the year before any of the new number theory was attempted. Most of the sabermetrics were applied to drafting players out of college, which over the years has had mixed results (one notable success being Nick Swisher, currently with my Yankees, currently sitting home watching other teams continue on in the post-season. Sigh.)

Whatever. Instead of inside-baseball nitpicking, the film is well made, remarkably undramatic yet interesting, and altogether entertaining. I think what I liked best was how it avoids the usual baseball movie clichés. The usual stock characters, the two dimensional characterization of idiot sportswriters, the drama of a particular big game… all of it doesn’t figure into the final mix. A lot of what the movie focuses on instead is how Beane works to trust his instincts despite a lot of disappointments in his life, and how that leads to a mixed result for his own personal goals. The A’s still haven’t won a World Series since 1989.

Another thing I liked was that I didn’t notice the Aaron Sorkin signature on the dialogue, although a little speech for Boston Red Sox owner John Henry comes real close. I guess if he & Brad Pitt were walking down a hallway talking fast at each other, that would have tipped it off a lot more. Or perhaps if they were both caught sneaking mushrooms through airport security.

But I digress.

I’d recommend this one to all baseball fans, and even beyond that to people who might enjoy a movie about a guy who learns to deal with & overcome his actual and his potential for disappointment. Adult themes in a film are kind of refreshing these days.

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