Moneyball - Movie Review
Tuesday night, I was lucky enough to see a screening of the new film adaptation of Michael Lewis' baseball classic Moneyball. (special thanks to my Twitter friend for the invite.) In addition to the screening, I was able to take in a Q & A with one of the movie's stars, former fat guy, now skinny guy, Jonah Hill. Pretty cool.
As most sports-and especially baseball fans-know, Moneyball is the story of current Oakland A's (and future Chicago Cubs') General Manager Billy Beane. Beane, when forced to adapt his player assessment strategy largely due to club revenue constraints, pioneered the use of 'sabermetrics' to craft competitive baseball teams based on statistics rather than traditional scouting. The movie adaptation of Lewis' book features Brad Pitt as the central character (Beane) and his wunderkind side kick, Peter Brand (who was purportedly based on Paul De Podesta) played by (as mentioned formerly, and likely again later) formerly fat, now skinny Jonah Hill. I haven't read Lewis' book for a very long time (and I've slept since then) so to be perfectly blunt, I can't recall a whole lot about it. But I don't think you need to be a seamhead or a roto-baseball freak to appreciate this movie.
The film focuses on the 2002 season for the A's, who are coming off of an AL West title in 2001 and will be losing three star players to free agency (Johnny Damon, Jason Giambi and Jason Isringhausen) because Oakland can't afford to pay them. Pitt is superb as Beane and belieavably displays the shrewdness that Beane is famous for. Hill is also skinny now, and he used to be fat when he was starring in the great film Superbad...Wait. Sorry about that. I digress. As I was saying, Hill is also excellent in his role as Beane's young lieutenant (Brand), a Yale-educated economics major who has written algorithims to compile a wealth of statistical analysis. Oscar-winner Phillip Seymour Hoffman is Beane's main foil in this film as A's skipper Art Howe--who despite winning the AL West in 2001 is unhappy with his contract situation.
The movie isn't perfect and does have some shortcomings. What is largely unmentioned in the film was the dynamic starting rotation the A's had during the first part of the 2000's. There is hardly a peep about Oakland's vaunted 'Big 3' starters Tim Hudson, Barry Zito and Mark Mulder (who went a combined 59-21 with a combined ERA of 3.06 in 2002). Instead, it focuses on the retreads Beane signs based on Brand's statistical analysis to replace the departing stars (Scott Hatteberg, Jason Giambi and David Justice). Also, the movie did drag its feet during the A's AL record 20 game winning streak--where it probably could have had 15 minutes cut out of it so I could have been to bed at a more reasonable hour. Still, I don't think that's enough to take away from the film entirely.
There's a good chance that if you're in 23 fantasy baseball leagues, or a MLB scout (who are lampooned a good bit in the movie) then this film won't exactly be what you're wanting to see: a graphic, detailed explanation of how the numbers get crunched. (And if you want to read one bitter baseball nerd's take on the film, look what ESPN.com's Keith Law has to say about it here. Damn, Keith...YOU MAD, BRA?!?!). But as a casual sports fan, or as a fan of reasonably good cinema, you could do a lot worse for your $12 than Moneyball.