Saturday, September 24, 2011

NN REVIEW: Moneyball

It's America's pastime. Baseball is one of the greatest sports in the world and it has been around for generations. Moneyball is the story of a man (or rather two men) who set out to change the way things were done. The opposition was intense and truly no one believed in what they were doing...except for themselves.

Meet Billy Beane, general manager of the 2002 Oakland Athletics. A team with almost a quarter of the funding of the New York Yankees that is about to lose three of its best players with no means for replacing them. Beane is surrounded by men who have been doing the same thing for years with a system that is clearly broken. He knows that something different has to be done and he sees the opportunity in Peter Brand. A Yale graduate with next to no experience at a real job who sees things a little differently. Peter breaks down players' value based on a complicated system of numbers and statistics. He believes that everyone is looking at the game the wrong way which leaves plenty of players heavily undervalued. Those are the players that a team like the Athletics can afford.

Beane and Brand set out to make a championship team with whatever players they can scrap together, as Brand puts it, "like an island of misfit toys." Moneyball is a movie about a baseball team defying the odds and doing what no one thought was possible. It shows that innovation is dangerous and the first man through the wall is always bloodied, but sometimes all you need to do is truly believe in what you are doing.

I would say the average age in our theater was around 40 and it was well so. There is a lot of talking in this movie and if you don't have an inherent interest or knowledge of baseball most of it will be like watching paint dry. Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network, A Few Good Men, etc.) is one of my favorite writers in Hollywood and he again does an excellent job in developing the characters. In addition to the story of Beane and Brand, we also see Beane's struggling relationship with his daughter and his ex-wife. There are issues that Beane must deal with off the field and Moneyball strikes the right note when giving us a reason to root for Beane. If you're like me or millions of other Americans who love baseball you will be sucked in from the get go but if the sport is not for you then Beane's family issues may be enough to at least keep you in your seat.

Director Bennett Miller does an incredible job of incorporating real life footage of the '02 A's to bring the story to life and the opening sequence of the movie was brilliantly done. The movie is beautifully shot and the way some of the games bounce back and forth between blurry shots on a television screen and heavily produced Hollywood lit shots is ingenious. 

Brad Pitt is again excellent and although I don't think it's one of his best performances or anything Oscar worthy he is more than sufficient to carry the lead role of Billy Beane. What will people be talking about? Jonah Hill. Yes, Jonah Hill is amazing in this movie. Taking his first serious role in stride I honestly believe his name will be tossed around come Oscar season for supporting actor. I have to admit when I first saw him in the trailer I thought he had been horribly miscast but it turns out I was horribly wrong. I honestly hope this puts him on the map for more serious roles in the future as it looks like he is trying to take his career in a more serious direction (or at least keep that option open). There's no denying that he is great for comedies but I always get so much respect for actors when they show that they have real range, to me that is one of the rarest gifts in Hollywood. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is the other big name attached to Moneyball and he does a great job as Manager of the Athletics Art Howe who clashes with the unorthodox methods of Beane. A well rounded cast helps propel Moneyball to the next level and lets you stay involved with the story rather than worry about how believable these characters really are.

In the end Moneyball is a movie about taking risks. About completely committing to an idea when literally everyone is against you. It's about the rewards of hard work and determination and the fact that sometimes the reward you get isn't the one you set out for. What Billy Beane did with the 2002 Oakland Athletics changed the way that teams think about baseball and the methods he and Brand developed are still used today. With lasting appeal and a real love for the sport, Moneyball may take its rightful place alongside the baseball classics

My Rating: A

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