More SABR Reviews of ‘Moneyball’
Since the release of “Moneyball” on Friday, September 23, some SABR members and friends have written their reviews of the film, which we’re compiling here:
Judy Johnson (Seamheads, 10/18): http://seamheads.com/2011/10/18/men-and-moneyball
“Moneyball” is a film full of men speaking largely in monosyllables. This could mean that its screenwriters possess a vocabulary roughly equivalent to that of a five-year-old, which is clearly not the case, or it may suggest that the world of baseball is full of Neanderthals who grunt for a living, which on some level might be true. But I think there’s more going on here. The complexity of baseball is belied by the apparent simplicity of its vocabulary and its basic numbers, such as 3, 9, 6-4-3, and 0. Monosyllables function eloquently and purposefully in “Moneyball.” They are deceptively simple words that create important, urgent, and witty rhythms; they cut through nonsense in getting at the essence of baseball; they represent an earnest attempt to apprehend the truth of a game and its people, and perhaps an accompanying desire to manipulate these truths.
Bill James (in an interview with the Lawrence Journal-World, 9/28): http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2011/sep/28/baseball-stats-pioneer-bill-james-says-moneyball-h/
“It’s terrific. It’s a fun movie with a warm and original perspective on baseball. It’s got a really nice energy to it. … The people who made the movie — all of them, I think — are nonbaseball fans. That’s part of the reason it works as well as it does; they avoid the cliches associated with baseball because they don’t have a traditional view of the game.”
Kevin Goldstein (Baseball Prospectus, 9/28): http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=15186
The movie is ostensibly about baseball, and the baseball segments are entertaining, albeit woefully inaccurate. That’s just part of making movies. I began explaining the inaccuracies to my girlfriend once we stepped out of the theater, and by the time we got home, I still wasn’t done. From hirings to firings to various front-office machinations—including the role and attitude of scouts—the producers favored mass-market entertainment over reality. While that’s understandable, it was still hard to leave the film knowing that people think this is how it really happened. As a baseball movie, Moneyball is well-executed. As a realistic portrayal of how things actually went down, it’s laughable, but again, that’s my problem, my own inability to suspend disbelief. My girlfriend, who has absolutely no interest in baseball, enjoyed the film, and that probably says everything important to the filmmakers.
Ben Jedlovec (Google Plus, 9/28): https://plus.google.com/116981719710228666462/posts/1Mvs2ebtvft
The plot is somewhat unconventional in that you’re not quite sure what the characters are building towards, but maybe that’s an artistic way to get the point across. The closest thing to a climax was the team’s 20th consecutive win, and you’re left wondering if the movie will continue on for a third hour to detail the team’s playoff exploits. Instead, the A’s playoff loss is quickly narrated by broadcasters, and Beane is left to philosophically consider the offer to take over the Red Sox in the movie’s final minutes. Despite Jonah Hill’s presence, the movie isn’t a comedy, but it’s subtly humorous nonetheless. The developing relationship between Hill’s Peter Brand and Pitt’s Beane is entertaining, as Brand spends half of the movie tagging along in Beane’s shadow. There’s one scene with Brand telling Carlos Pena he’s been traded, and you’re half expecting Pena to suddenly snap and beat Jonah Hill into a bloody pulp. The scenes of Beane and Brand with several A’s scouts in the war room are hilarious. When the discussions trail off on brief tangents, make sure you catch the background chatter.
Rob Neyer (Baseball Nation, 9/26): http://mlb.sbnation.com/2011/9/26/2448613/moneyball-movie-review
This is as baseball a baseball movie as I’ve seen in a long, long time. With one exception, the baseball players are played by actual baseball players. The film was shot in real baseball stadiums, in real locker rooms, in real Oakland Coliseum offices, etc. There are real pages from real Bill James Baseball Abstracts, and real footage of Kevin Youkilis and Jeremy Brown in the minor leagues.
What struck me, as much as anything, was how much baseball is packed in there. And always to good effect. The Jeremy Brown footage isn’t gratuitous; it connects us to the A’s draft strategy — which otherwise isn’t mentioned at all — and it also sets up one of the lovelier exchanges between Billy Beane and Peter Brand (Jonah Hill as a nerdy version of Paul DePodesta). The screenwriters took nearly all of the high points of Michael Lewis’s book, threw them at a refrigerator like a bunch of word magnets, then reassembled them into a fantastic script.
Which is to say, they did what everyone said couldn’t be done.
Jeff Polman (Seamheads, 9/25): http://seamheads.com/2011/09/25/moneyball-review-381/
Moneyball may be a “baseball movie”, but it’s closer to a classic man-against-the-system-at-impossible-odds film, along the lines of my favorite MATSAIO movie ever, The Verdict. Paul Newman, a hopeless drunk of a Boston attorney, takes on a big hospital negligence case, gets his personal crap together and not only wins the case when he seems to have absolutely no chance, but makes evil defense attorney James Mason pee in his pants in the process.
For more coverage of “Moneyball” at SABR.org, including a look back at which “Moneyball” lessons are still relevant since the book was published in 2003, click here.
Originally published: September 26, 2011. Last Updated: September 26, 2011.