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Awesome: 31.11%
Worth A Look53.33%
Average: 15.56%
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Total Crap: 0%

6 reviews, 9 user ratings

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by Erik Childress

"It's How You Play The Game. Without Money."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2011 TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: The formula for a sports film has been the same for as long as one can remember capturing the first images of a baseball game on a motion picture. Introduce an audience to an underdog team, stack the odds against them, watch them steadily improve and come together until facing their greatest rival in what has become one of the ultimate movie clichés – “the big game.” Sports on film have certainly contributed to the excuse of forgiving the ultimate clichés in that it’s all about the journey and not the destination. But as separate entities have also created more metaphors to live by than a book of quotations can fill. The adaptation of Michael Lewis’ documentation of how Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane helped change the game of baseball is itself also a change in the perception of what a sports film can be. While the chants of “inside baseball” will certainly be heard by those who know more about the basic rules of the game than the dynamics utilized to get the most out of them, Moneyball should leave those outsiders more appreciative through an exceptionally crafted piece of work and true baseball lovers in seventh heaven.

After the 2001 post-season, the Oakland A’s watched as three of their top players were lost to free agent markets with three times the payroll. Damn Yankees. Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) can’t even bring himself to actually watch the games, let alone walk into another scouting meeting hearing the same ol’ jargon about “five-tool” players. Guys like Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon and Jason Isringhausen are not the kind of guys you can just replace. Especially if you don’t have the money to buy that talent. No team just gives it up either. What they might be willing to give up though is one of their new backroom managers though. That is what Beane finds in Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a Yale graduate who has worked up a formula for what it might take to win a World Series.

The theory clashes with the cadre of scouts who believe in the fundamentals they can see with their eyes like running, throwing and hitting. A's manager Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman), already happy about the final year of his contract, refuses to even play Beane's money guys like Scott Hatteberg (Chris Pratt), who has been converted from a catcher to a first baseman. Tension builds further as the defending division champs get off to a slow start that has many calling for Beane's job. Faith in Peter's walk-and-run breakdown though begins to pay off though as Beane takes a more active role with the players and helping them to understand their role in the bigger picture of the season.

It all sounds like that traditional sports formula on the surface, but Moneyball invites us into the world behind the curtain until it becomes something greater. Ask anyone out there what goes further in life - pure talent or the perception of talent. Flash tends to always win out over substance while the more valuable pieces to any enterprise's success are often left drifting without the proper credit they deserve. Certainly when the names of Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin are credited with the screenplay, it is one of those rare times when the writers are ignored. Sorkin, hot after his Oscar win for The Social Network, and Zailian, responsible for everything from Schindler's List to David Fincher's forthcoming adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, make everything so effortless. Their combination of wit, facts and an understanding of their protagonist's motivation make one forget we are watching a film about just a game.

We are constantly reminded throughout Lewis' book about Billy Beane's volatile temper and it is certainly manifested in the film. But it is a temper directed at his own frustration of not getting the job done, first as a major league player and then as the guy whose control ends once the guys he hires hit the field. How accurate Pitt's amalgamation of the real Beane might be is irrelevant. Because for us, the moment Pitt appear on screen he is, for the better, our Billy Beane. This is one of the richest, most graceful performances Brad Pitt has ever carried a film with. He has played young and arrogant in Seven, frighteningly charming in Fight Club, breezy in the Ocean's films, goofy in Burn After Reading and Inglourious Basterds, not to mention dead-on riveting in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. His Billy Beane is an encapsulation of everything that made him a moviestar and all the unforced skill that won over the early doubters and turned him into one of our finest actors. Between this and The Tree of Life it is unfathomable to think that some voting body would not be ready to shower him with accolades. But in one case where moviegoers may split with Beane's philosophy, you don't have to win the last game of the season to be remembered.

There is an important distinction in noting that Beane's way of thinking, influenced in part once demonized sabermetrics founder Bill James, has never amounted to winning that final game - a fact noted by the film. Remember that Moneyball is not about "the big game." It is about the bigger game. Progress. One of the very ideals that America has strived upon since its existence and one that has encountered as many stalls as it has movement. The little guy vs. the big guy, whether on the playground or in American industry, is as old as any testament you can come up with. Maybe not winning and how you play the game is a corny notion, but unless you want to believe in some higher power like luck, one cannot win if you cannot compete. And money is the great unequalizer. Baseball is more than just America's pasttime or America's game. It IS America. No salary caps, so the rich get richer while teams like the Pirates and Royals can barely get out of the cellar. Hell, they weren't even proper rules in place to keep players from outright cheating. Steroids aside, this is a game where sign stealing and manipulating umpire perception is encouraged. The final scenes of Moneyball are astonishing in the way it finds both the fantasy and the irony of the line "how can you not romanticize baseball?" Each Spring is a new eternal hope. And for those with three times the money smart enough to recognize change, you might even hire one of the guys who saw the future and win that final game. While the rest of us can just play the best we can.

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originally posted: 09/22/11 00:31:57
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

3/26/15 Robert Tschinkel finally a baseball movie about humans and the emotions they experience in this game 4 stars
10/10/13 Simon 3.5, so rounds up. Accessible & tightly written, but some oversights/liberties glaring 4 stars
2/26/12 Monday Morning You'll never leave your seat. Excellent! 5 stars
2/10/12 RueBee would watch it again 4 stars
11/16/11 Steve Capell GREAT movey for those that love baseball. 4 stars
10/15/11 Suzz Not a great film but it was good baseball movie 4 stars
10/10/11 Darkstar i wanted to like it, but it was so slow. 3 stars
9/24/11 Toni Oakland 5 stars
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  23-Sep-2011 (PG-13)
  DVD: 10-Jan-2012


  DVD: 10-Jan-2012

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