Movie Review – Moneyball

Moneyball (2011)
Written by Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin
Directed by Bennett Miller

The Oakland As general manager Billy Beane has just watched his team suffer a brutal defeat in the playoffs which leads to the departure of the team’s “superstar” players. With 2002 looming on the horizon, Beane has got to assemble a team who stands a chance in the division. On a trip to make trades with the Cleveland Indians, Beane meets Peter Brand, a statistician who sees the key to baseball as not finding stars but cultivating the guys who get hits and get on base. Beane and Brand present their potential players to the scouts and the team’s coach only to be met with stiff resistance. As the new team comes together, everyone must work to overcome the conflict, with Beane’s primary goal being an outcome that shows the Major League teams that baseball is more than a game of spending millions.

I’m not a greats sports movie fan, and in particular, I’ve just never been compelled by the game of baseball. It’s a good thing though that Moneyball isn’t a movie about baseball. This is a film about challenging accepted modes and systems as well as seeing potential in people that everyone else has given up on. Moneyball challenges the “fame” economy that seems to have seeped into every aspect of everyday life, reminding us that regular ordinary people are capable of fantastic things if only the rest of us are intentional in looking. The film itself refuses to be flashy and is presented in a clean muted tone, which helps convey what Beane and Brand are doing. They aren’t glamorous, but they are showing how science and math reveal beauty in our world that isn’t obvious at first glance.

The use of flashbacks helps flesh out Beane’s mindset and how his love of baseball was twisted over the years and the regrets he has about the path he chose in life. These scenes do not overstay their welcome and instead are brief montages of images and dialogue that show young Billy Beane struggling to stay relevant in the game. By the time we find him in 2001 as a general manager he doesn’t get to know his players and chooses to remain isolated upstairs in the offices. This makes sense because he empathizes with the pain of a player who feels like they aren’t living up to their potential. It’s not until Beane gets down in the locker room and the dugout that his team begins to come together.

A traditional film about baseball would have epic moments happening on the field and players hitting home runs, Moneyball opts to make the big moments quiet exchanges between characters, emotional beats that reveal deeper layers to the themes. This is a film in the same vein as The Social Network, a story that feels awkward for film, yet through strong writing, acting, and directing challenges our expectations and reveals that these topics can make for some of the best movies. Brad Pitt’s Billy Beane is a profoundly engrossing character who isn’t always likable but whose motivations and fears are clear and reasonable. I would say we don’t get as much from Billy Brand and it would have been nice to flesh his character out more.

Moneyball challenges what we should expect out of a baseball movie, in the same way, our protagonists reinvent the way we look at baseball. The larger ideas that are woven throughout the picture speak to concerns about politics, religion, and society in general. There is a beautiful exchange between Beane and the owner of the Boston Red Sox at the end of the film that speaks to this broader application of the ideas of Moneyball:

“It’s the threat of not just the way of doing business, but in their minds, it’s threatening the game. But really what it’s threatening is their livelihoods, it’s threatening their jobs, it’s threatening the way that they do things. And every time that happens, whether it’s the government or a way of doing business or whatever it is, the people are holding the reins, have their hands on the switch. They go bat shit crazy. I mean, anybody who’s not building a team right and rebuilding it using your model, they’re dinosaurs.”

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