Wednesday, August 20, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

‘Moneyball’: Thoughtful slugger

Forced to wait in the outer office like some no-account hired hand, Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) suspects that his efforts to trade players with the Cleveland Indians will come to nothing ... but, at the moment, he sees no options. That view is about to change, as will Beane’s entire vision of how best to create a winning baseball team. Courtesy photo

By
From page A11 | September 23, 2011 |

‘Moneyball’

Four stars

Starring: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Chris Pratt, Stephen Bishop, Kerris Dorsey, Robin Wright

Rating: PG-13, for occasional profanity

You just can’t beat the romantic, almost spiritual atmosphere of a good baseball movie.

“Moneyball” is a rather unconventional baseball movie, to be sure, but one suffused with its own type of magic.

Director Bennett Miller’s thoughtful drama, ostensibly a profile of Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), actually concerns one man’s quixotic quest to rewrite the fundamental principle that had driven baseball for decades: the notion that the best team could — would — be assembled by obtaining the best players money could buy.

And for “best,” insert “most expensive.” After all, a player commanding an eight-figure salary must be worth every penny, right?

Scripters Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network”) and Steven Zaillian (“Schindler’s List”), working from a story by Stan Chervin — who, in turn, adapted Michael Lewis’ book, “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game” — have quite cleverly written the “All the President’s Men” of baseball.

Just as William Goldman spun espionage and intrigue from the grinding research and day-to-day fact-checking of newspaper reporters, Sorkin and Zaillian have made a rich, engrossing brew of economics, statistics and charts.

We meet Beane and his Oakland Athletics in the aftermath of the 2001 season, just as their best players are cherry-picked by other franchises with deeper pockets. The A’s are left gutted, with Beane nearly apoplectic over the realization that his team is little more than a candy store for the Yankees and other wealthier rivals.

A humiliating attempt to horse-trade with the Cleveland Indians draws Beane’s attention to somebody who seems out of place in that office: a quiet, couch-potato nebbish whose opinion inexplicably carries some weight. Beane tracks this individual to his desk — a delightful scene, well staged by Miller — and thus meets Peter Brand (Jonah Hill).

Brand is a stats freak who candidly expresses his frustration over the fact that — in his view — people are going about the “science” of building a baseball team in entirely the wrong way.

Beane returns to Oakland having made only one purchase: Peter Brand.

Knowing he can neither outbid nor outplay wealthier franchises via traditional methods, Beane embraces Brand’s philosophy of aggregate statistics: pursuing (for example) a weak thrower, in exchange for the same man’s impressive at-bat percentages. Brand’s operating mantra — backed by impressively detailed charts — is that so-called star players are overpaid for their actual skills, which often aren’t terribly well-rounded.

Better, therefore, to assemble a team of less expensive “overlooked misfits” who, collectively, can deliver the same goods. An intriguing theory … but would it work in actual (batting) practice?

Longtime sports fans — particularly those who play fantasy baseball — will recognize this as Sabermetrics, defined by co-creator Bill James as “the search for objective knowledge about baseball.” Those same fans also will recognize that Peter Brand never existed; his character is the shorthand personification of an entire squad of economic analysts the real-world Beane hired, in an effort to replace scouting hunches and gut instincts with hard science.

This is a typical screenwriters’ ploy, and a brilliant one: The always engaging dynamic between Pitt and Hill fuels this film. Pitt’s Beane is dedicated, driven and wholly consumed by his desire to out-maneuver the other franchise owners who regard the A’s with pitying glances. Hill’s Brand simply loves the game itself: idolizes it all out of proportion, to quote Woody Allen’s line about New York City.

Beane’s chief tormentor is field manager Art Howe, played with smoldering disdain by an almost unrecognized, balding and portly Philip Seymour Hoffman. These physical characteristics are key to Howe’s character, because the man simply refuses to let Beane mess with game line-up and field strategy, traditionally the field manager’s role.

Hoffman is thoroughly credible in this role, as with everything he touches; Howe is utterly intractable … but we sense, at this man’s core, that he can be persuaded. Somehow. Eventually.

Hill is a hoot, but Brand isn’t mere comedy relief. This young actor has grown considerably since his vulgar sidekick days in the likes of “Knocked Up” and “Superbad,” and he makes the most of his craftily conceived character here. Brand is never quite sure when Beane is putting him on, and Hill plays that uncertainty to perfection.

Young Kerris Dorsey, recognized from television’s “Brothers and Sisters,” plays Billy’s daughter, Casey. The girl has a truly lovely scene with her father, while they search a music store for a guitar; the devoted expression on Pitt’s face is transcendent.

Underdog baseball movies generally are comedies — as with, say, “Major League” — and the players therefore are star turns by a familiar ensemble cast; as a result, they’re far from real. Not so the actors assembled here: a collection of mostly unknowns, many of them former ball players, who therefore look and sound authentic … and vulnerable.

Chris Pratt stands out as injured catcher-turned-first baseman Scott Hatteberg: a guy grateful for this second chance, who nonetheless fears that his own deficiencies will get in the way. Stephen Bishop delivers a similarly nuanced performance as fading All-Star left fielder David Justice: a player “aging out” in his mid-30s.

Despite the story’s serious nature, and the atmosphere of desperation that hovers over this gamble, Miller’s tone can be unexpectedly funny. Credit Zaillian and Sorkin for their marvelous script; Sorkin, in particular, previously wrestled taut drama and frequent humor from the equally unlikely realm of computer nerds in “The Social Network.” A composite character like Peter Brand is right up Sorkin’s alley.

Mostly, though, Miller gets the tone right: the enchanting, exhilarating, indefinable bliss of baseball. Pitt conveys this as well, with every reverential glance at a ball park.

And, to the credit of all, the story is told more or less properly. Scripting shortcuts such as Peter Brand aside, Miller, Zaillian and Sorkin don’t rewrite the essential history; longtime fans also know what eventually happened to the 2002 Athletics. It’s a helluva story, and I’ve no doubt baseball buffs will take this film to heart.

— Read more of Derrick Bang’s film criticism at http://derrickbang.blogspot.com. Comment on this review at www.davisenterprise.com

Comments

comments

  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .

    News

    Report details the face of hunger in Yolo County

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    Summer jobs: a scramble for spots, extra cash

    By Spencer Ault | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    Davis Arts Center gets a new look, thanks to Brooks

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    The big moveout, on ‘Davisville’

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Sunder campaign will be at Farmers Market

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Classic car show slated in Woodland

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Students can practice safe bike routes to junior highs

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3

    ‘Monsters University’ to be screened in Central Park

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    California regulators approve PG&E rate hike

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

    America’s ‘it’ school? Look west, Harvard

    By New York Times News Service | From Page: B3

     
    School board preps for new academic year

    By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A3

    Public opinion sought about Nishi Gateway

    By Lily Holmes | From Page: A4

     
    Woodland historical award winners announced

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A8

     
    Davis Art Garage honored; bench dedication set

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A8 | Gallery

    .

    Forum

    Delta-friendly water bond is a win for all of California

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6

     
    Bravo! The road diet works

    By Rich Rifkin | From Page: A6

    Support water bond in November

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

     
    Relay for Life team says thanks

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

    Tom Meyer cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: A6

     
    .

    Sports

    Aggie QB Baty is back to pass … Touchdown, Tina! Tina?

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    I’m not an ‘athlete’ but curling is hard

    By Evan Ream | From Page: B1

    Hard hoops schedule features defending national champ at UCD

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Crisp’s big hit helps A’s

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    UCD roundup: Aggie gymnasts are awesome at academics

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B2 | Gallery

     
    Sacramento scores early to snap skid

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B8

    Unplayable? Cubs, rain hand Giants a loss

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

     
    .

    Features

    Food that travels well for cooking out

    By Julie Cross | From Page: A5 | Gallery

     
    .

    Arts

     
    Crowd funding campaign offers support for Art Theater of Davis

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A7

     
    Visit Crawfish and Catfish Festival in Woodland

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A7

    Artists invited to paint at Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A7 | Gallery

     
    Goldberg, Milstein to play at Village Homes

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A7 | Gallery

    The voice on the CD comes alive at Music Together concert

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A7

     
    .

    Business

    .

    Obituaries

    Railroad museum will host Aberbach memorial

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    .

    Comics

    Comics: Wednesday, August 20, 2014

    By Creator | From Page: B6