Moneyball

With all the new free time I have acquired I am catching up on comics unread and movies unwatched. I have watched some duds, a masterpiece, and a one “Yeah that’s fine but Best Picture? C’mon”. That title belongs to mulitple Oscar nominee Moneyball.

I approach Moneyball as a devout hater of baseball since it is obviously the most boring sport in the world. I have no affection for sports in general but baseball is seriously the most boring shit to watch and play. Most sports have a one or the other thing going on. Soccer is a sweat storm. Football cripples people. Tennis is a full body workout with the added threat of mental breakdown. Have you read David Foster Wallace’s piece on tennis? It’s great, and that is coming from a guy who does not give a shit about tennis. I have friends that love baseball and have dragged me to baseball games and attempted to explain the game, the history and legacy of the players and I can’t bring myself to care. I can appreciate that they care and when I took a tour of the Seattle Mariner’s stadium while on vacation I was moved by the tour guide’s emotional recounting of a historic moment that took place at the field. I did not care about the event but I cared that he cared. With all of this baggage I still decided to watch Moneyball.

The gist of Moneyball is that teams with piles of money can buy the good players and teams with less money are stuck with the dregs of society. Brad Pitt’s Billy Beale teams up with Jonah Hill to fight against this terrible system. Jonah Hill has a couple scenes where he sorta kinda explains what his system is but the film isn’t really that interested in how the system works so I had to just go with the flow. The script is by Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin but it never buzzes to life. Brad Pitt is fine but unremarkable and Jonah Hill is even less remarkable which got him an Oscar nomination because the Academy will only recognize comedic actors when they learn to stop making fools of themselves and learn that life isn’t just about having a good time. They have to stop making movies full of dick jokes and star in a respectable movie about men and baseball.

There is a really strange scene early on where Brad Pitt goes to pick up his plot contrivance-I mean daughter from ex-wife Robin Wright. Like all movie ex-wives she has taken up with a man who is nothing at all like the hero; in this case a weenie guy who knows nothing about baseball, portrayed by Spike Jonze. I assume the scene is there to let us know that Billy Beane was too much of a man for this woman who requires a nebbish who probably just reads and exercises by going for walks. HE CAN’T EVEN PRONOUNCE THE PLAYER’S NAMES! GOSH!

There are a couple scenes where Beane calls up other team managers and trades players. These scenes have a playful tone but since I never really understood why anyone was doing anything for any reason beyond the fact that the movie has let me know that Billy Beane is a good guy and all the old people are bad guys it all just plays as bouncy rhythms. That was an Up scene. Oh, this a Down scene. And so on and so forth. Would I be wrong in thinking that Zaillian’s austure epic style watered down Sorkin’s punch-punch-punch style? I’m just saying, Aaron Sorkin wrote a very entertaining tv show based entirely at an ESPN knockoff and a very entertaining movie about Facebook. Is baseball that hard to dramatize? Probably. There are a couple moments where Beane explains to Hill’s Peter Brand that he has to learn how to tell players they have been cut from the roster or traded. Hill is apprehensive but he eventually does tell a player they have been traded and everything goes fine and what was the point of that? “In this scene everyone acts like an adult.” Thrills!

Steven Soderbergh had been developing the film with a greater focus on the statistical elements of the source material, but had the film cancelled out from under him which allowed him to making the awesome Haywire so all is well that ends well, right? I don’t know if a all statistics take on this subject would make for a better movie but it certainly would have been less muddled. Since Moneyball isn’t that interested in the stats or the game itself both get a short shrift over Brad Pitt’s angsty sojourns. How much of Moneyball is just Brad Pitt sitting around, mulling shit over? We even get a long take of him pulling off the expressway to turn his car around. It’s a long take. I am not exaggerating. The film takes time early on to introduce various players, coaches and managers played by Chris Pratt and Philip Seymour Hoffman. These characters do nothing except have short terse conversations that have no payoff. Hoffman’s story arc is essentially sad, pissed, smiling. In other words, a waste of time for one of our greatest actors. Pratt is introduced as catcher who can’t catch who is made into a first baseman but then hits a winning home run so ok? Quite an arc you’ve created there.

Moneyball ends with sigh as we learn that other teams have utilized Beane’s statistical strategy to great success, except for Billy Beane’s Oakland A’s. So does Moneyball really work? Maybe, sorta, a little, not really, yes and no. Ultimately, it’s sports so it doesn’t matter anyway.

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