CSS Button No Image Css3Menu.com

Baseball Prospectus home
  
  
Click here to log in Click here for forgotten password Click here to subscribe

<< Previous Article
Premium Article Prospectus Hit and Run... (09/28)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Future Shock: The Mone... (09/23)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Future Shock: Construc... (09/30)
Next Article >>
The Prospectus Hit Lis... (09/29)

September 28, 2011

Future Shock

Moneyball for All

by Kevin Goldstein

I was the guy who had to wait to see Moneyball when it actually opened in theaters, so I came in post-hype. I’d scanned reviews written by people I know, like, and respect, and the predictability of the reviews upset me. The movie seemed to have people digging into trenches long abandoned. Some proclaimed the film's mere existence was some sort of victory for sabermetrics. Detractors reminded everyone that Beane didn't win a World Series, but conveniently forgot that many of his processes, once iconoclastic, are now in every front office—including in those that have won titles with the ideas and philosophies originated in Oakland.

 

Still, I didn't know what to expect. I do this for a living. While I don't work in a front office, I like to think I have a decent idea of how things work in one. The Athletics were the first team I was ever assigned in my Baseball America days, so I've gotten to know many of the people I would see portrayed on the silver screen. Willing suspension of disbelief is an early part of any Film 101 class, but this was going to be difficult.

 

Then there was the origin of the film itself. I was fascinated—if not downright excited—about Steven Soderbergh’s original idea for the movie, a post-modern, hyper-real filming plan with the central characters playing themselves. Instead, it turned into an Aaron Sorkin device. Sorkin, while extremely talented in the ways of dialogue, is about as edgy as a Nerf ball and has more than a little Brandon Morrow in him—he's as capable of throwing an unforgettable one-hitter as he is of losing control of his stuff and needing to be pulled in the third. Hiring Bennett Miller—whose previous film, Capote, was itself a compelling character study about a man doing things his own way—made up for the watered-down concept.

 

The movie is ostensibly about baseball, and the baseball segments are entertaining, albeit woefully inaccurate. That's just part of making movies. I began explaining the inaccuracies to my girlfriend once we stepped out of the theater, and by the time we got home, I still wasn't done. From hirings to firings to various front-office machinations—including the role and attitude of scouts—the producers favored mass-market entertainment over reality. While that's understandable, it was still hard to leave the film knowing that people think this is how it really happened. As a baseball movie, Moneyball is well-executed. As a realistic portrayal of how things actually went down, it's laughable, but again, that's my problem, my own inability to suspend disbelief. My girlfriend, who has absolutely no interest in baseball, enjoyed the film, and that probably says everything important to the filmmakers.

 

Unfortunately, even when judged solely as entertainment, the movie sometimes falls flat. Just like Moneyball, there are market inefficiencies to exploit in the entertainment business, and unfortunately, that means ways to worsen the film while expanding the audience. The writers couldn't make Beane talk like Beane does, because that would mean an R rating, and R ratings equal less money. More importantly, they couldn't just make a baseball film. One could almost imagine a scene straight out of Robert Altman's remarkable industry takedown, The Player, with a film executive in a $3,000 suit insisting that the story needs a heart. Sorkin and Steven Zaillian headed to the Hollywood cliché scrapyard to dig up the storyline of Beane's relationship with his daughter, who is written as one of those utterly adorable, insanely wise and mature little girls that I'm sure had the producers cursing the fact that Dakota Fanning actually had to age.

 

In the end, I was reminded of Beane telling me two weeks ago about Oakland’s need to be risk-averse. Hollywood was risk-averse with this movie, and not to its benefit. The daughter scenes are a complete waste of time, seemingly included to please multiple demographics. They add an unnecessary heft to the film, as do a few embarrassing scenes with out-and-out attempts at emotional manipulation, like a supportive call from Beane's ex-wife when things seem down.

 

That said, the film shines at times. Sorkin hit all the right notes in writing an entertaining baseball film, Miller is a more than capable director, and cinematographer Willy Pfister knows when to go lush and when to go subtle. Thanks to the use of dark lighting and shadows to add to the immersion, the film is sometimes almost gorgeous while maintaining a gritty realism.

 

The cast is a mixed bag. The film is a wonderful reminder of what a fantastic actor Brad Pitt can be when he is cast in a role other than that of the most beautiful man in the world. Jonah Hill, who has many of the film's best lines as the Paul DePodesta doppelganger, is a great comic actor, but he's more of a subdued Jonah Hill in every scene than a character. Sometimes, Hill doesn't know how to get out of the way of himself. Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who starred as Truman Capote in Miller's last film, is fantastic as Art Howe. However, the character itself is unfairly set up as one of Beane's primary antagonists when it comes to the new way of thinking.

 

Overall, Moneyball is a good movie. It's not a great film. Like most Hollywood productions, it was extremely well-executed, with nothing new or exciting, more than a bit tepid, and containing its share of pandering. It was worth the price of admission, but nothing more. I'm glad I saw it, but I'm not compelled to watch it again or buy a Blu-Ray. It's not some victory for the statistical movement, nor a collection of lies to be vilified. It's Hollywood, and there is no room for accuracy in movies because accurate equals boring in their world, boring to a mass-market audience. There is no guarantee that the Soderbergh version would have been better, and I'm told that his script was a disaster, but I can't help but want to see a film where art was a more important motive than profit.

 Much like the book, I hope the movie helps to build a larger core of people with stronger-than-casual interest in baseball, I hope that more people begin to look into what makes a winner beyond batting averages and the bad video montages about heart and spirit that will overwhelm us this postseason. I just hope those new to this intellectual portion of the game can do it without taking sides. There are no sides. It's not even beer and tacos anymore, it's simply information and information.  

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

Related Content:  Character,  The Who

20 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

jedjethro

Sorry ... the precocious daughter thing would be enough to make it a must-avoid for me, regardless of anything else.

Sep 28, 2011 06:30 AM
rating: 2
 
LynchMob

I saw the movie on opening night (Friday) ... really liked it.

Agree with you when you say "It's Hollywood" ... to the point where I don't think the movie is about the same thing that the book is about ... the movie is about Billy Beane, and perhaps even a charicture of Billy Beane, in that it's about a man who chooses "family" over a big pay day (how can Hollywood resist that :-)). So, if you start there, then no longer are "The daughter scenes ... a complete waste of time" ... rather they are at the core of the story ... that some people prefer even broken family and work family to life in the even faster lane and brighter spot lights.

Yes, it's simplistic ... that's Hollywood! Even the book did not capture all the complexities. The research and writings of the past 30 years, and the evolution of the biz of baseball more recently, have been very interesting to follow ... and the book, Moneyball, is certainly a part of that. The movie? Well, it was just fun to hear Bill King and Ray Fosse and see scenes of the Oakland Coliseum and Fenway Park from vantages that I don't other get to experience. Hey, it's easy to be romantic about baseball :-)

Sep 28, 2011 06:50 AM
rating: 4
 
johnorpheus

Glad I could read a reasonable review from a baseball guy, instead of Keith Law's "I wanted to walk out of the film this is the worst movie I've ever seen" diatribe.

Sep 28, 2011 07:33 AM
rating: 5
 
fatted

Kevin, in case you didn't know most of us aren't in baseball nor do we pretend to be so can you highlight some of the gross discrepancies that annoyed rather than just saying they exist? Maybe to help decrease our own ignorance of the workings of the sport?

Also, thanks for the spoiler alert. They don't end up winning the World Series!?

Sep 28, 2011 07:57 AM
rating: 3
 
BP staff member Kevin Goldstein
BP staff

I could reel off a few lings (ok, a laundry list) but I don't want to be mr. spoiler. So maybe this is a heads up that it's coming.

Sep 28, 2011 08:49 AM
 
fatted

I've been watching too much baseball to see this, but I hope to see it Thursday or Friday night. After which I'll keep my eye out for your complaints. Or you could do it on the podcast, but that might be tough to not ruin it for other people.

Sep 28, 2011 09:05 AM
rating: 0
 
rposborne

It's interesting to me how the release of the movie seemed to briefly open a hole in time where long dead arguments crawled out of the past, as if they're still relevant.

It is a solid movie, which is a good result given what little I've read of its history in development. It felt a little fragmented at times, like it was just moving between set pieces, and I don't know how I feel about the daughter story. I wish the scouts were a little less cartoonish. I wonder if it wouldn't have been better to have media figures as the main antagonists. But yeah, solid movie.

The R rating point is an interesting one. There was something that felt restrained about the movie's world, I think having to play the ratings game might be part of that.

I did love the way the climactic game was shot. They found a way to do a game in a way that looked and felt different and sucked you into it within the movie in a way that just worked.

Sep 28, 2011 08:12 AM
rating: 1
 
rileybreck

Probably the most spot-on and fair review I've read about the movie. Nice work Kevin.

Sep 28, 2011 08:51 AM
rating: 1
 
ScottyB

After what they did to Michael Lewis' "Blind Side"- scrapping facts and real drama, adding scenes with cute moppets, shifting the attention from Oher to Sandra Bullock, taking out anything unsavory (what college coaches promised, the fact that the tutor was directed to, and did, help Oher cheat on homeschool exams to get his GPA up, etc.), and making the football scenes unrealistic and unwatchable (Bullock telling Oher to think of the QB as her so his "98th percetile protective instincts" would click in), etc etc etc etc, (I could go on all day)...

...I am very trepidacious of how they would adapt Moneyball. Nothing I've read about it so far has made me change my mind.

Sep 28, 2011 09:04 AM
rating: 2
 
alangreene

Excellent review. I appreciate an honest and balanced commentary on it.

Sep 28, 2011 10:26 AM
rating: 0
 
CRP13

Netflix is probably going to write me an email explaining why they decided not to offer it on-demand, but that they're renaming it to Quikball.

Sigh. I'll probably wait for the DVD regardless. Redbox is cheap.

Sep 28, 2011 13:42 PM
rating: 2
 
Cromulent

I think you're right that the real pivot point was early in the development process when it went from a documentary to a feature film. I've yet to meet a person in any line of work - health care, education, law enforcement, finance, government - that felt Hollywood got it right when it came to their field. Story trumps fact when trying to reach a broad audience and that's an uncomfortable place when you know how it really works.

Sep 28, 2011 13:43 PM
rating: 1
 
Jason Wojciechowski

"extremely well-executed"

Except for Miller's baffling inability to direct a group table-talk scene.

Sep 28, 2011 15:27 PM
rating: 0
 
RaysProf

I fail to see how this movie will attract any audience other than those who like to look at Brad Pitt.

Sep 28, 2011 17:33 PM
rating: 0
 
Benjamin Harris

Well that is a pretty large audience.

Sep 28, 2011 21:48 PM
rating: 4
 
dpratola

I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. Yes, it took many liberties with the facts. It even got a fair bit just plain wrong. So what. Reality is far more complex, but no one is going to go to a 6 hour movie. It was entertaining, thoughtful, surprisingly slow-paced for a sports movie, but not at all sluggish.

And it got the big picture right - no, not for folks like us who spend our free time at BP, but they got it right for folks like my wife, who likes baseball, but generally finds the inner game dreadfully, awfully, did I say terribly, yeah, terribly boring. She liked the movie, too. Not just for Pitt, either. It gave her an entry point to why I might find baseball theory almost as fun as the game itself. More accomplished in two hours than in many years of me trying to explain. So there's that.

Sep 28, 2011 22:52 PM
rating: 5
 
JimmyJack

Ransom Stoddard: You're not going to use the story, Mr. Scott?

Maxwell Scott: No, sir. This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

Sep 29, 2011 08:13 AM
rating: 1
 
LynchMob

Our hero liked the movie ...

http://www.businessweek.com/finance/watching-moneyball-with-bill-james-09222011.html

Sep 29, 2011 09:16 AM
rating: 0
 
RaysProf

Ummm, hero?

Sep 30, 2011 19:32 PM
rating: 1
 
R.A.Wagman

So when do they start production on the movie version of "The Extra 2%"?

Sep 29, 2011 10:43 AM
rating: 1
 
You must be a Premium subscriber to post a comment.
Not a subscriber? Sign up today!
<< Previous Article
Premium Article Prospectus Hit and Run... (09/28)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Future Shock: The Mone... (09/23)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Future Shock: Construc... (09/30)
Next Article >>
The Prospectus Hit Lis... (09/29)

RECENTLY AT BASEBALL PROSPECTUS
Premium Article Painting the Black: Pedro Alvarez's Trip Fro...
Premium Article Minor League Update: Games of Thursday, Apri...
Premium Article What You Need to Know: April 17, 2015
Going Yard: How Bryant Can Crush
The Call-Up: Kris Bryant
Premium Article Rubbing Mud: So You Want to Trade Your Draft...
BP Boston

MORE FROM SEPTEMBER 28, 2011
Premium Article Prospectus Hit and Run: A Night in the Life ...
Premium Article Transaction Analysis: Ozzieball Does Miami
Premium Article Collateral Damage: Buzzer Beaters
The Prospectus Hit List: Daily Hit List for ...
Fantasy Article Value Picks: Second, Short, and Catcher Revi...

MORE BY KEVIN GOLDSTEIN
2011-09-29 - Premium Article Kiss'Em Goodbye: Boston Red Sox
2011-09-29 - Premium Article Kiss'Em Goodbye: Atlanta Braves
2011-09-29 - BP Podcast: Episode 67.5: Messy Festivals Of...
2011-09-28 - Future Shock: Moneyball for All
2011-09-28 - Premium Article Transaction Analysis: Ozzieball Does Miami
2011-09-27 - Premium Article Kiss'Em Goodbye: San Francisco Giants
2011-09-27 - Premium Article Kiss'Em Goodbye: Los Angeles Angels
More...

MORE FUTURE SHOCK
2011-10-05 - Premium Article Future Shock: Growing into Stardom
2011-10-04 - Premium Article Future Shock: Arizona Fall League Preview
2011-09-30 - Premium Article Future Shock: Constructing a Champion
2011-09-28 - Future Shock: Moneyball for All
2011-09-23 - Premium Article Future Shock: The Moneyball Way
2011-09-15 - Premium Article Future Shock: Eye on the Prize... Eventually
2011-09-13 - Premium Article Future Shock: Five Notes From the Midwest Le...
More...