At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Moneyball “2011”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Sports Drama/ Stars: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright, Chris Pratt, Stephen Bishop, Reed Diamond, Brent Jennings, Ken Medlock, Jack McGee, Vyto Ruginis, Nick Searcy, Glenn Morshower, Casey Bond, Nick Porrazzo, Kerris Dorsey, Arliss Howard, Derrin Ebert, Miguel Mendoza, Adrian Bellani, Art Ortiz, Royce Clayton, Spike Jonze, Bobby Kotick/ Runtime: 133 minutes

I think it can safely say that for forever and a day now the iconic sport that is baseball has remained a constant in this nation even if it takes a degree of skill to be able to play it even somewhat well and perhaps an even greater degree of skill in deciphering the collection of digits and statistics that, better than a lot of other things, can help regale a person with the narrative behind either a game, a whole season, or even the totality of a player and their respective career. Indeed numerical values like “.284,” “3000,” “762,” “162,” or “90” may represent many things to many different people, but to baseball fans from the most casual to the diehards among us, these digits are known to represent such items of interest as the amount of hits a player has, the amount of runs they scores, the number of games they played, and so on and so forth. Yet more than the 7th inning stretch or even the proverbial peanuts and cracker jacks, I think it is safe to say that baseball is one sport that has always had a very close relationship with numbers and it is also the single sport that works the best in tandem with them as well. Indeed just taking a singular glance at something like the back of a baseball player’s card can tell you a lot about either a single game or a single year in their career. Yet astonishingly up until at least a solid decade ago, those digits to say nothing of how they were viewed had found themselves in a position of being unchallenged. Suffice it to say a lot of the categories those numbers were attached to were considered high indicators of what a player brought to a team and, by extension, how much he should be paid and his chances of making a team one that won games. That is until something truly remarkable occurred. A thing that took the form of some of the more vague statistics on a player’s resume started to come to the forefront as more important indicators of a player’s worth to a team. Suffice it to say that it was not entirely redefining the concept of statistics, but was instead just a new way of utilizing it. As a result, the world of baseball was turned on its head and looked at through a new point of view which saw the sport analyzed on a more in-depth level than just on the superficial red seam surface level that it had been seemingly since the beginning. The reason I bring this all up is because the slice of cinema I am reviewing today, 2011’s Moneyball, is a cinematic take on a book that tells the story of one general manager in the sport of baseball using the aforementioned statistical approach rather than the old school methods in order to find valued players that were consistently passed over by other teams in the hopes of making a team that could actually win games for the lowest cost possible. It is also one of the best sports movies of the 2010s as not only is the script solid, but the helmsmanship is on-point and the performances are all hits out of the park. Yes there may be a miniscule flaw here and there, but overall there can be no denying that Moneyball is a true homerun in every sense of the word.

The plot is as follows: Moneyball gets its story underway by taking us all the way back to October in the long ago year of 2001 where we see that the Oakland Athletics are engaged in a game against the New York Yankees that will see the winner get the chance to go on and play for the pennant in their league and, hopefully, the World Series. Suffice it to say it isn’t much of a spoiler to reveal that the Yankees and their 114 million-dollar line-up manage to completely and utterly annihilate the A’s and their 39 million dollar line-up with a fair amount of ease. Yet adding even further insult to this already pretty significant injury is the fact that Oakland soon learns they are about to lose their trinity of top players to that accursed thing known as free agency with the best of the three going to the very same team that just kicked their butts pretty bad. Suffice it to say that because the A’s can’t afford these star athletes or even get new ones on the free agency market the 2002 season looks absolutely bleak with a return to the playoffs looking all but for naught. That is unless their general manager, a former player by the name of Billy Beane can pull off something truly special. Thus we see that, even in the face of his scarce financial assets, Beane tries to construct a team through the old school methods of intelligent trades, scouting reports, and financially savvy signings. Things soon change for our hero however when he makes his way to Cleveland to try and enact a trade since he may get turned down, but he also crosses paths with a young and recent graduate from Yale by the name of Peter Brand. A young man who sells him on a new way of thinking. Namely that what he should be looking for in terms of players aren’t exactly the ones who have all kinds of fancy shmancy stats, but who can get on base since those who can get on base can score runs and the team with the most runs wins the game at the end (since this isn’t golf). Impressed by his pitch, we see Beane make the choice to hire Brand and quickly gives him the role of Assistant General Manager where we see this dynamic duo against the team’s seasoned staff members begin to try and put together a team of so-called “misfit toys” who fit the criteria that they are looking for. Thus does this rather unique team actually possess a chance to triumph or will this little experiment be one to tragically fall flat on its face especially with the more than slightly bullheaded field manager of the team by the name of Art Howe deciding to just toss everything Beane and Brand are preaching to the side and vehemently doing everything he can to make sure their so-called “moneyball” players don’t get the chance to play?  That I will leave you to discover for yourself dear reader…..

Now right off the bat, it should be noted that Moneyball is in many respects similar to The Social Network seeing as, much in the same vein as that film, this one is a triumph that is inspired by a by and large true narrative that you might not think at first would make for some truly riveting material for a dramatic film. In the case of this film that material consists of a pair of people looking at numbers through a lens that no one had thought to before and then utilizing this knowledge to put something together that no one else would have been able to see the value in. Suffice it to say therefore that film helmer Bennett Miller has taken this thematic hook and utilized it to mold one of the best films from 2011, a slice of cinema that is also potent on the pathos, comes complete with a group of fully fleshed out characters, and is also one that is able to locate a significantly more immersive meaning than the numbers-based narrative might have you think to the contrary. With that in mind, Miller’s helmsmanship is well done in how it is low-key effective at framing the narrative rather than regaling the narrative for us. That and Miller does a wonderful job of permitting the cast of characters to sell us on the narrative and they manage to do so with a wonderful degree of skill and talent. Indeed in the lead role, we get a truly top-flight performance from Brad Pitt as Beane who has on his shoulders not only trying to make this scheme work, but also on persuading others in his organization to go along with whilst dealing with issues at home. Indeed Pitt proves to be equally skilled in the moment where he engages in conversation with his ex-wife and her new husband or when he takes part in a game of phone tag as he desperately tries to get a highly sought after player in a trade. We also get just as superb work in this from Jonah Hill in the role of Peter Brand. Indeed Hill does terrific in giving us a character who goes from an introverted yet brilliant young man to a young man who is still brilliant yet is now a lot more confident in being able to speak up and tell his superiors what choices to make whilst also being able to work with the players as well. Suffice it to say that Hill really is soul of the film as much as Pitt is the heart of it. Indeed they really do play off each other beautifully and together they, with the aid of a phenomenal support cast, really do make for one of the more dynamic of duos that I have seen in a film in a while.

Now if there is a single question that you might have which help determine if this film is one that they will be able to enjoy is if this is a baseball movie for the diehard fans or if this is a film that is relatable on a universal level. Put another way: if you don’t know who Billy Beane, Scott Hatteberg, David Justice, and Chad Bradford are to say nothing of knowing the bare minimum about the sport and the operations behind the scenes before going in is that detrimental to your enjoyment level? In that respect, I can thankfully tell you that the answer is most certainly nope even though in all fairness the more dedicated fans of the sport amongst you might have more of a familiarity and respect for the characters and more nuanced components at work in this film. Yet even with that in mind, knowing next to absolutely nothing about this sport will not shield one from the overarching thematic concepts at work in this film even if they aren’t exactly where one can see them. Indeed at its heart beyond the uniforms, beyond the games, beyond even the meetings between the various management levels there is a narrative to be found about reinvention and finding something’s true worth by shedding away superficial ingredients to say nothing of past biases and ways of thinking about possible players that aren’t exactly present day. Suffice it to say that Moneyball is a film that deals not only with hope, but in locating a manner in which to triumph even when all the indicators seem to show the only way you can go is down, down, down. Yet by the same token, this is also not a film that talks about a freak stroke of good fortune in the free agency. Rather, it’s about rebooting a system, tinkering with a long-held mindset, and forging a path to success that had never been done before which then leads to some truly astonishing results with perhaps the most remarkable being that it managed to add on to a game that many had already felt was perfect just the way it was.

All in all there is not a doubt in my mind that the 2011 slice of cinema that is Moneyball is one that is a terrific representative of top-flight filmmaking in every sense of the word. Indeed here is a film that regales us with a narrative dealing with hope and of some people who make the choice to look outside the proverbial box in a section of life that sees that box as the definitive source of insight and truth and which may not always be on point, but at the very least is the main way to succeed in this section of the world. At the same time, this is also a slice of cinema that reveals that although money can purchase quite a bit in this world, there are a few things it can’t purchase with particular regard to loyalty and intelligence. A pair of things incidentally that are both showcased in full with the riveting arc for the movie’s main character. With that in mind, this film is quite potent and comes equipped with a strong cast, top-flight performances, wonderfully penned dialogue, and a vibe of realism both in its narrative and in the thematic concepts it is working with in particular regard to the idea of accomplishing great things by any way possible including those ideas that no one has thought to try and/or those waved off by the majority without even giving it a second glance. Suffice it to say that Moneyball is one of 2011’s best, and a true must-see in every sense of the word. On a scale of 1-5 I give Moneyball a solid 4 out of 5.