The missus and I began this movie tonight – iPod Touch augmented – sort of a warm-up to tomorrow's Super Bowl. Sadly she fell asleep soon after it started. Why? Mostly because she was really tired, but the scent of behind-the-scenes baseball seemed to be for her caffeine free. So I watched it alone.
image via comingsoon.net
I guess you gotta be a baseball nut to enjoy this movie (I am), but it was the most understated sports flick I've seen yet. More on that in a moment. The storyline is semi-fictional: Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beene (Brad Pitt) was a "never-was" baseball player who sought to re-invent baseball through his team. Baseball, if you don't follow the game behind the counter, i.e., where the money is – and isn't, is a game of haves and have-nots. The New York Yankees have the mind-boggling payroll, and such teams such as the Detroit Tigers and in this case. Oakland, well, don't.
So Billy hires Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), who is a baseball stats number-cruncher and something of a baseball savant, to help assemble a team on a shoestring budget. The majority of the movie is taken up with Billy and Peter putting their process together – the resistance of the old baseball heads, field manager Art Howe's (Philip Seymour Hoffman) reluctance to buy into Billy's scheme, and two spates of mid-season trades.
We fans usually pay attention to the game only between the white lines, but there's another game – Billy's game – which is played behind the counter, and this game makes the one we fans watch possible. Does Billy succeed in his gamble to change the game? Yes – and no. Any more would call for a spoiler alert.
But why such an understated approach to a baseball movie (often long seconds go by without sound, or very minimal sound)? Baseball has always been called the most cerebral of sports, but its most mental aspect is in how the team is assembled, the trades, the gambles on players' health, confidence, and hidden abilities. The actors here were certainly up to the minimal-emotion approach to their parts, and what they've done in Moneyball is create an almost meditative aura around the crassest aspect of the modern game, the $$Benjamins$$.
With some misgivings, I have to say this risky movie works. Number-crunching and money, properly applied, the movie seems to say, does re-invent baseball without taking away its romance and energy.