A couple weeks ago, we were treated to Warrior, a sports drama that broke the mold of a typical sports drama and became something more. Hot on its heels is this week’s Moneyball, a movie that, similarly, hopes to break new ground in the genre by focusing more on what goes on behind the scenes rather than on the field. It’s written by Aaron Sorkin, screenwriter of last year’s best picture, The Social Network, directed by Bennett Miller, director of Capote, framed by Wally Pfister, cinematographer of The Dark Knight, and it features a terrific cast of Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Its resume is second to none and although it’s a technically sound film, it nevertheless tells an inconsequential story, one that will likely have people asking when it’s over: that’s it?
Moneyball tells the true story of Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), the general manager for the Oakland Athletics, when he attempted to wrangle up a championship team despite a tiny budget during the 2002 baseball season. To do so, he enlisted the help of Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), an Ivy League graduate who explained to him that the owners of Major League Baseball teams are trying to buy players when they should be buying wins. He believes there are undervalued players out there that are overlooked because of trivial matters like body type or play style. He thinks, despite a lack of money, they can find 25 men worthy of calling themselves a ball club.
Moneyball can be viewed a number of different ways, though none of them are particularly interesting. One way can be as a traditional sports story about defying expectations—after all, this ragtag group of players ended up setting the record for most consecutive wins in a single season—but defying expectations meant making it to the playoffs, where the team lost in the first round, making a movie adaptation about them questionable. Another way would be as a story about a man who changed the way the game was played, or, more specifically, how managers recruited players, but that’s a tidbit that is interesting as a footnote in a sports book, not as a full length feature film. You could also see it as a film about a man overcoming his emotional struggles, but even that proves to be uninteresting because his struggle stems solely from baseball. They don’t come from a meaningful outside factor like in the aforementioned Warrior; they come from not winning games, which is hardly a struggle at all.
The best sports dramas aren’t about the sport, they’re about something else. Remember the Titans, for example, was about a social divide brought on from racism. The Express similarly dealt with race relations, chronicling the story of the first African American Heisman Trophy winner, an accomplishment that meant more than the sport itself. Moneyball is simply about baseball, that’s it. While not necessarily a bad thing, its insignificance can’t help but show through when compared to other films in the genre.
There needed to be a reason to care about Billy and his team, but none is ever presented. He’s a divorcé, a situation ripe for emotional turmoil, but only one scene exists between him and his ex-wife and, as far as the viewer can tell, their post-marriage relationship is fine. He too has a good relationship with his daughter, shown through scenes that prove to be the only gripping moments away from baseball. In his family life, nothing seems to be eating away at him. The film tries to create a connection between his desperate need for success by tying it in with flashbacks from his failed professional career, seemingly wanting to make up for the fact that he never lived up to expectations as a player, but again, it’s not fleshed out enough and the connection gradually diminishes until there’s nothing left.
Moneyball is a baseball lover’s movie. If you don’t know what an RBI is or are uninterested in the player trading process or don’t care about the likelihood of a player getting a hit based on the pitches he swings at, this movie may not be for you. Because the process used to recruit the players is based on an old algorithm, there is a lot of statistical talk, which many will find dry and boring. I played baseball as a kid and watch it today, so I found it somewhat interesting, but these talks are as deep as this movie gets, which is a problem considering its pretentiousness in thinking it is so much more. It’s still worth seeing because of the great performances, top notch cinematography and gripping dialogue, but it’s simply too shallow to make an impression.
Moneyball receives 2.5/5