Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game written by Michael Lewis in 2003 about Billy Beane and his approach to building the Oakland Athletics roster was a good book that introduced the concept of sabermetrics to the masses. For whatever reason, it was decided to adapt this book to the silver screen (which normally is iffy for something that’s actually about math and business without some element of crime involved). In any case, the film was finally produced in 2011 with Brad Pitt starring and the recently departed Philip Seymour Hoffman in a supporting role. Jonah Hill also rated a supporting actor credit.
The film doesn’t stay true to the book (which is nonfiction) and has altered substantial amounts of real-world facts in order to “tell a better story”. But the story as is, was already good enough to be optioned for the film itself. While Philip Seymour-Hoffman perfectly embodies the stereotypical “stuck-in-the-old-ways” baseball manager, this wasn’t always the case in reality for the manager Hoffman was depicting, Art Howe. Hoffman turned in yet another luminous performance, but it was flawed from the beginning when the screenplay was adapted to make Howe a bit too over the top.
Written by Aaron Sorkin (who also wrote the script for 2010’s The Social Network), a few liberties were taken to make the film more broadly appealing. The subject matter sounds boring to the typical person – number crunching, analytics, and deeply flawed characters attempting to rationalize a game that many hold sacred. Real-life tribulations and issues always trump whatever manufactured plot devices are written into the script. Luckily, the rich tapestries of the actual lives led by the major characters of Moneyball was more than sufficient to entertain audiences.
Presented to general audiences and critics, the response has been overwhelmingly positive across the board. Unfortunately, I can’t count myself as part of their ranks. I didn’t quite enjoy this movie and thought that Pitt in the leading role wasn’t the right casting choice, but that probably drove the movie to be made in the first place, along with profits, and fawning from several critics for his performance in the film. Jonah Hill has built a film career for himself by playing either the dork, geek, or chubby sidekick to the point where he might almost get typecast or shoehorned into whatever roles fit those criteria in the future, so I don’t really have an issue with the casting of Hill himself.
As previously mentioned, Philip Seymour Hoffman shines – but he’s able to shine, no matter how mangled the material he gets given may be. Most of his time is spent glaring out from the dugout throughout the movie. And yes, while this movie got described as being a “baseball” film for the audience, I still think it’s really a “the business of baseball” subject that got just enough baseball scenes crammed into the film itself for critics and audiences that might not have known about the actual book itself or the paradigm shift that the book triggered in baseball itself.
I can only wish that we reach a point someday when someone wants to take a business book, and actually shoot a film about the actual subject matter itself. Business itself is interesting, and even though it was the business of baseball – you didn’t really need as much baseball as was shown in Moneyball. While the film has been titled ‘enjoyable’ by many – what they really found ‘enjoyable’ was the dialogue, not the plot itself. I really can’t endorse a movie based on the dialogue alone, especially when it’s based on a nonfiction book that was actually pretty good on its own merits without the movie dialogue.
As for the director, Bennett Miller – I think the best thing about him directing this movie was that he probably got Philip Seymour-Hoffman onboard. Apart from that, I’m not quite sure he helped or hindered the movie. It’s a direct result of the script itself that I have issues with this movie.
If you’re not a baseball nerd – or a strict book-to-film purist, you may enjoy Moneyball. But for that niche community, I just didn’t like this adaptation of what was already a great book.
MPAA Rating: PG-13