Movie Review: Moneyball




Follow me on Twitter

Moneyball is being billed as a sports drama, but really it's a mystery.

The first question I couldn't figure out is: Why was it even made in the first place? When the book was released in 2003 it was polarizing but it was interesting and helped casual baseball fans gain acceptance and understanding of advanced statistics.

Through no fault of its own, the book (written by Michael Lewis and published in 2003) hasn't aged well and the story just doesn't translate to the screen. The Moneyball concept has become trite and misunderstood over the years and this movie will only continue to make things worse.

The next question that puzzled me was: Who is the target audience for this film? Baseball fans will already know the 2002 Athletics didn't win anything and will be disappointed by the lack of baseball action and the Hollywood cheese injected into a ballpark hot dog.

While most of the people in the theater laughed at the predictable one-liners sprinkled throughout the film, real baseball fans will laugh at the ridiculous depictions and oversimplifications of how a front office operates.

The movie's main plot focuses on how the A's replace three key players that left via free agency before the 2002 season: Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon and Jason Isringhausen. They do so by adding Scott Hatteberg, David Justice and Jeremy Giambi, who was already on the A's for two years before the 2002 season.

One of the first scenes in the movie shows Beane (played by Brad Pitt) actually traveling to Cleveland to try and convince Mark Shapiro and about a dozen of his assistants to trade 32-year-old lefthanded reliever Ricardo Rincon. It's also wildly unrealistic to imagine a team's general manager and field manager to visit a player's house right before Christmas, but that's Hollywood's version of how the A's landed Hatteberg.

Beane also spends time in the movie telling his scouts things in meetings they would obviously already know, making points thinly disguised as dialogue that's really only helpful for the audience.

The most appalling scene in the movie shows Beane firing Grady Fuson (when in fact Fuson left Oakland on his own to join the Rangers' front office) and then storming into another room to hire current scouting director, Eric Kubota. The borderline slanderous dialogue goes something like this. . .

Beane: "Kubota, did you ever play ball?"
Kubota: "Uh. . . I played tee-ball."
Beane: "Good! You're our new head scout!"

Like the book, the movie continues to drive an imaginary wedge between stat geeks and scouts, portraying scouts as half-witted geriatrics, clueless as to how to build a successful team. Of course the movie also follows the book's lead in glossing over the fact that the team's five best players, according to one of the most-trusted advanced metrics, Wins Above Replacement were Tim Hudson, Barry Zito, Miguel Tejada, Mark Mulder and Eric Chavez, all of whom were discovered and signed by the scouts made to look like buffoons.

On the flipside, casual observers won't be compelled to care about Beane or the team. The plot lacks focus and the film winds through scenes between building the team, flashbacks of Beane's playing days, looks into Beane's relationship with his daughter and quickly progressing through the season that it's difficult to care about any of the different elements.

Moneyball is the rare sports movie that doesn't have drama or excitement. The action scenes are diluted by being dark and silent and the big crescendo is that the team went on a 20-game winning streak—a great accomplishment, but one that lacks impact nine years later. I'm sure many people will leave the theater asking, "That's it? They didn't win the World Series? Who cares?"

Pitt actually turns in a very good performance, as always, but it's unfortunate the casting director insisted on sticking with Jonah Hill. It's disappointing the movie wasn't able to use Paul DePodesta's name (Hill's character is a fictionalized version of DePodesta named Peter Brand). While Hill does an adequate job, it's difficult to look past his typecast persona of a goofy slob in stoner comedies.

The movie tries to end on a warm note by having Beane turn down a $12.5 million offer from the Red Sox to remain with Oakland, close to his daughter. Then a postscript shows on the screen stating that the Red Sox went on to win the 2004 World Series using statistical metrics Beane popularized. . . without mentioning the Red Sox also did it with a $125 million payroll, the same type of spending vilified earlier in the film.

Moneyball tries to follow in the footsteps of another Michael Lewis book turned heartwarming sports blockbuster, "The Blind Side," but instead of scoring a touchdown, it gets sacked on third and long. Instead of hitting a home run, it grounds into a game-ending double play.

I went into the movie with low expectations and it didn't even live up to those—it was pointless and boring. If you really are dying to see the movie, take Billy Beane's approach: forgo the overpriced movie theater market and wait a few months to pluck the DVD from Redbox scrapheap for a dollar.