Denisa and I went out to the movies last night (belatedly for my birthday, since the theater had been closed on the actual date). Our choice of film was pretty much made for us: due to scheduling constraints, it was Moneyball or nothing. (Well, that’s not entirely true. We could have watched a few others, but if I’m going to pay money to go to the movies, it had darn well better be a good movie. The Help was too late, as was Contagion, and those were the only two others I would have considered yesterday. Typically, I wouldn’t go to a movie in the theater unless it was one that’s likely to be significantly better on a big screen than it will be at home. But I make exceptions now and then for birthdays.)
Anyway. Moneyball. I was a bit worried about this one as a date movie, since my wife is not only not into baseball, but not even American to boot. This would sort of be like me agreeing to go watch a movie in Slovak with no subtitles. I’d be likely to understand about as much as Denisa would in the wrong sort of baseball movie.
Thankfully, this one wasn’t the wrong sort.
For those of you who don’t know, Moneyball depicts the real life endeavors of Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt), the general manager of the Oakland A’s, who decided to try and put together an unorthodox group of players using the small budget he had available, in hopes that those unorthodox players would be able to take on the big guys like the Yankees or the Red Sox. (You know, like almost every other sports movie out there.) The difference in this one is the way Beane decided to assemble the team. He used statistics instead of scouts, choosing players for their numbers and not their overall feel. A pitcher’s pitch looks really funky? So what, if it gets results. That sort of thing.
Denisa and I both really enjoyed the movie. It’s got some genuinely funny scenes, it’s well acted, and they’re able to convey the basics of what’s happening without requiring their audience to have an exhaustive knowledge of baseball. I think it succeeds in large part because it plays with the tropes of sports movies just about as much as it follows them. There are some scenes that are straight out of The Natural. Baseball certainly gets romanticized. But at the same time, Beane is essentially destroying some of the great traditions of baseball. Ignoring scouts to go with statistics, instead? Yikes!
It also helped that I think Bennett Miler (the director, nominated for an Oscar for his work on Capote) approached the movie not as a sports film, but as a film more along the line of Aaron Sorkin’s The Social Network (Sorkin also contributed to the script of Moneyball). The movie is focused on Beane and his approach to baseball, not the team and their drive to win. It’s an important distinction, and it affect the entire movie–most noticeably in the ending.
In any case, I heartily recommend the film. Good quality cinema, for baseball lovers and baseball neophytes alike.
Three and a half stars.