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Moneyball for the win

It’s rare that I’m looking forward to a film in September, given the horror shows that normally dot the landscape, and I’m not talking genre here.
And as I have chronicled time and time again, I have absolutely no shame when it comes to what I play as long as I think people will pay to get in – so it was with some excitement that I brought in Sony’s Moneyball, starring Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill and Philip Seymour Hoffman, among others.
The preview looked great. I was familiar with the story, being a died-in-the-wool baseball fan. The legendary Oakland A’s, who had once been the epitome of baseball excellence, if not weirdness, had fallen on hard times They were for all intents and purposes a small market club with a limited payroll toiling in the shadow of their former success.
Out of nowhere came this upstart manager Billy Beane who had been not much of a success as a player and started off as a bit of a bust as a manager.
And then suddenly he became the flavor of the month in terms of big-time signings. He was pulling pitchers out of obscurity and winning.
I listen to sports talk radio which may take away some of my ability to make fun of dudes who line up to get Star Wars tickets first but I don’t live with my mom and I will never go to a renaissance faire. They don’t even spell it fair. Puh-leeeeze.
But I digress.
I heard about Beane before his book came out but I didn’t know the full depth of his story. I was aware that he had this uncanny knack for signing obscure players for next to no money and then trading them before they had to resign for huge money. He seeded some of the powerful teams in the league with his players, and fielded a competitive team in the process.
What I didn’t know was how he picked the players and that really is the story here.
Baseball is about tradition. It’s about stats and people can tell you who led the league in batting in 1973 Not that any one cares. It’s been the slowest to make changes and it really is well, boring. And conservative. And stuck in the 20’s.
They have scouts and an extensive minor league system and there are old timers who send word up to the big club about a prospect and everyone flocks to see the kid and they sign him and bring him up through the ranks.
Beane found a Harvard graduate who had a system for rating players that stepped outside of home runs and on base percentage and looked at weird little details. And it worked.
They started to win.
Well first they started to show promise. No one believed this little experiment would work and that really is the story. It isn’t really about baseball in terms of wins and losses. It’s about taking on the accepted way and believing in yourself. I mean really he believed in the whiz kid not himself but let’s not hold me to details or reality. I’m on a roll here.
The acting is strong. Pitt turned into Robert Redford sometime in the last 5 years. He’s got his smirk and his eyebrows and it’s strong. Not that playing a general manager of a left coast ball club is a huge stretch but if you take the material seriously you can make it work.
Jonah Hill as the Harvard wunderkind is really interesting, but he always is. He was a writer trying to get recognized so he started doing stand up and actually got his start because he would make phony phone calls for Dustin Hoffman. He was friends with Dustin’s kids and Hoffman thought he was funny. He cut his teeth in 40 Year Old Virgin in a really funny cameo and then graduated through the Apatow comedy school hitting it big with Superbad.
He took a cut in pay to play in this film and it’s worth it.
Of course I’m a big Seymour Hoffman fan and he plays the perpetually irritated manager Art Howe with skill and a great deal of persnickety energy.
So the acting’s great, the story’s compelling and the fact that it’s a true story helps but the real star of the show is the writing. The book was strong but hardly memorable. It weas more a manifesto for building a ball club than a source of drama.
Enter Aaron Sorkin.
That cat can write.
You may remember him from such memorable things as The West Wing, A Few Good Men, The Social Network. I’d pay money to see his grocery list filmed.
He takes ordinary people in ordinary situations and makes it all come alive and seem compelling. I swear he could turn the guy working the slow and stop sign at a construction site into an action hero.
Moneyball is about a lot more than baseball and while it has very little to do with the outcome of the games it is definitely about winning.
It’s a great film and I recommend it to anyone who likes drama regardless of their interest in baseball. Of course I’m just happy to be showing something I don’t have to apologize as I’m separating you from your cash. See it, like it, own it. As always, other opinions are welcome, but wrong. That’s it for this week. The cheque’s in the mail and I’m outta here. Paul.

Filed Under: Paul Peterson

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