“Moneyball” isn’t the greatest baseball film, but it is certainly unique.
Unlike most baseball films, “Moneyball” focuses on the people behind the scenes, rather than an actual team. Of course, the team in this film – the 2002 Oakland Athletics – plays a pivotal role. However, they act as a supporting cast; strategically used to help the protagonist overcome obstacles.
Based on the 2003 book by Michael Lewis, “Moneyball” centers on long-time Oakland General Manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt). After losing several top players to free agency, Beane rebuilds his team using the sabermetrics system that relies more on statistical calculations than traditional scouting. It’s a way of building a contender when one’s pockets aren’t as deep as the New York Yankees. This new system is met with disdain and skepticism, creating a “David vs. Goliath” story arc.
While the “Moneyball” method is featured prominently, it is not the main focus of the story. Instead, the crux of the film focuses on Beane’s struggle as an individual.
Through Bennett Miller’s direction and Pitt’s acting, Beane is presented as a tortured character. He never removes his wedding ring, even though he’s divorced, and he can hardly watch the Athletics on the field, not because of their poor play, but because of his fear of getting emotionally involved. Beane desperately wants to seek revenge on an age-old system that damaged him when he was a touted prospect in the early 1980s.
It is a strong portrayal. One feels compelled to cheer for him despite his shrewd tactics with fellow GMs, his scouting staff and his own coaches and players.
The strongest aspect of “Moneyball” is its attention to detail. Miller does not rewrite history or manipulate it to have a Hollywood-style happy ending. Every player that played for the Athletics in ’02 (and opponents as well) is portrayed by an actor, complete with name and number on the back of their jerseys.
Almost every character in the film is a real-life person. The only major exception was the character of Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), who was based on Paul DePodesta, Beane’s former assistant and the current Vice President for Player Development and Amateur Scouting with the New York Mets. As reported by Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports, DePodesta requested the name of his character be changed because he felt he wasn’t properly portrayed in the script.
Miller also made sure the uniforms worn in the film were the same ones that were worn in 2002 (and the 80s when Beane has flashbacks to his playing career). He could have made up characters and used whatever uniforms are worn now. But Miller made the effort to ensure everything was kept the way it was in 2002, which enhances the quality of the film.
Overall, the acting and direction is decent. However, it is important to remember that everything seen in the film should not be taken at face value. Yes, “Moneyball” is based on a true story, but the dialogue and mannerisms of the characters were likely exaggerated to create drama. That’s not to say the real-life people portrayed in the film are void of emotion and conscience. Still, it wouldn’t be wise to assume what happens on the screen reflects reality.
Non-baseball fans will like “Moneyball.” They will enjoy the little-guy-against-the-world storyline and the message the film presents. Baseball fans will not only like “Moneyball,” but enjoy it more, simply because they will understand and appreciate the context. Either way, one won’t feel they have wasted their time.