A movie about a robot baseball team? Yes, plz.
INT. AMC THEATERS 14-VAN NESS, SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA
A 22 year old film student enters the building and, to his left, he notices a massage chair.
Fair enough. After all, when I’m preparing to spend 1.5-2 hours of my time to mindlessly watch a movie in a comfy, reclining chair whilst grubbing on popcorn (with, no extra butter mind you!) and slurping a 5 dollar diet coke, I feel the need to prepare for such a strenuous activity by sitting on a vibrating chair. I used this opportunity to gather my thoughts and expectations for what I was about to watch: MONEYBALL. Thank you again, robots.
MONEYBALL is the story of the 2002 Oakland Athletics and of their zealot/genius GM Billy Beane. I am a Giants fan. Perhaps more of a Giants fan than many Giants fans. So, screw the A’s. BUT I’m also a bit of a baseball junkie. Not the cool kind of baseball junkie who wears stupid tracksuits, drinks Johnnie Walker Red, and joins fantasy leagues, mind you, but the kind that enjoys studying the history of the game, reading statistics, and arrogantly showing off my knowledge to unsuspecting meat-heads.
Moneyball is based on the book by Michael Lewis and adapted for the screen by Hollywood’s one and only screenwriting darling, Aaron Sorkin and (SFSU alum) Steve Zaillian. The film is directed by Bennett Miller and stars the hunky Brad Pitt, the hunkier Jonah Hill, and the hunkiest of the hunkiest Philip Seymour Hoffman as Art Howe.
What drew me to the film was the active decision to make a smart movie about sports. The usual underdog story, while, occasionally, mind-numbingly tear-jerkable, is, in this reporter’s personal opinion, old hat. My slogan for this genre has become, “They made Rocky and then they got cocky”.
What separates this film from, say, Remember the Titans, is its dedication to BUILDING ROBOTS, not uplifting speeches about “hanging in there when the chips are down” or “nobody believes that we can do it, but we’ll show them”. Nah. None of that… BUILDING ROBOTS.
What I mean by the phrase “BUILDING ROBOTS” (and no I don’t mean the Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robot movie starring Hugh Jackman, coming to a theater near you) is that the film is about using an advanced baseball analytic theory, known as sabermetrics, to make the most out of a bad situation; IE: NO MONEY. In order to build these robots, Mr. Beane has to find the parts that people threw away because nobody wanted them as much as the sleeker-looking parts.
Science, math, dollar signs. You know, nerd stuff.
The sexier, more expensive parts like Jason Giambi, Jason Isringhausen, and Johnny Damon were replaced by clunkier parts that could still get on base with less excitement: Non Hall of Famer Scott Hatteberg, Non-Home Run Champ David Justice, and Non Cy Young Award winning reliever Chad Bradford.
Jonah Hill, while still chubby, is remarkably good in his performance as Peter Brand, a character based on an amalgamation of different people including former Oakland Assistant GM Paul DePodesta. One scene that stuck out in my mind was Hill and Pitt’s little pow-wow upon meeting each other at Cleveland’s front office. Hill’s speech about undervalued players and the frivolous spending mistakes ball clubs often make made me think. First I forgot the dude was in a movie that was as terrible as Accepted and it made me feel like he was smart enough to get into Darmouth without Michael Cera.
My only tiff with the movie is some of the glaring omissions regarding Oakland’s 2002 season. Hatteberg’s heroic home run that clinched Oakland’s 20 game streak: wonderful. Justice’s .376 on base percentage: stellar! Bradford’s 3.11 era in the American League: solid! But Sorkin and Zaillian’s leave out some stuff too….
Barry Zito won 23 games and a Cy Young award. Fellow starter Mark Mulder won 19 games and Tim Hudson finished is season with an era under 3. They are barely even in the movie! Oh, but it doesn’t stop there! The MVP of the league that year: Oakland’s own Miguel Tejada and to his left Eric Chavez who hit 34 home runs and would amass 6 gold gloves throughout his solid career. Solid players, great years, and barely in the movie. I know being a general manager is about assembling the small parts as well as utilizing the big parts, but let’s not pretend that Scott Hatteberg was the reason for Oakland’s 20 game win streak.
But I forgive you, movie. You entertained me. You made me think a little bit. And I had more fun watching you than sitting in a message chair. Message chairs can’t make you think about baseball statistics, they can’t thrill you, they can’t represent Northern California, they can’t make you root for the good guys, and they certainly can’t give you a relatively, happy ending. You have to go to a real message place for a real happy ending.
I give Moneyball two big toes up.