Yes I know, I’m probably one of the last people out there who take the time to write a baseball-themed blog to actually see the movie Moneyball, the film adaptation of Michael Lewis‘ seminal baseball book by the same name. We took some time last weekend during a period of relaxation to order it on PPV from DirecTV and watch it. Here’s some thoughts;
First, I’ll freely admit that I struggled to appreciate the movie for two primary reasons:
- I read the book, several times over, digesting the analysis that Lewis offered for the success of the Athletics in the early 2000s, following the narrative of Billy Beane‘s rise from backup outfielder to advance scout and eventually the front office at such a young age and reading along for the primary story line revolving around the strategy employed during the infamous 2002 draft.
- I could not get over the distraction of so many parts of the story being purposely changed (changing Paul DePodesta‘s character to be the fictitiously named Peter Brand) or outright fabricated (the entire storyline involving Beane’s daughter).
I’ll leave aside my primary criticism of the book in general; as I’ve stated in this space and in other forums, Lewis really did not discuss the fact that the 2002 Athletics were blessed with a quartet of starters that has only been matched a few times in the last 40 years or so, and they were a huge part of the team’s success. For me, yes the construction of the hitters on that team was unique and interesting, but that team doesn’t win 103 games without three starters who each posted a 125 ERA+ or (in some cases significantly) better.
From a movie critique stand point, I thought Brad Pitt did a pretty good job of portraying the engimatic Billy Beane, if anything toning down the violent temper as it was portrayed in the book. Jonah Hill‘s portrayal of the DePodesto character was, to me, bland and lacking depth. I was really surprised to see him get an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor frankly.
The entire storyline in the movie about Beane getting into the fight with the head scout was completely manipulated from how it really happened; in the movie they were talking about free agents but in the book they were talking about amateur players during the 2002 draft. I suppose from a storyline perspective the conflict needed to occur when it did; a movie that was supposed to tell the tale of how Beane selected all these undervalued players in order to make the 2002 on-field team win wouldn’t really work if the primary conflict was about a bunch of 21yr old draftees that wouldn’t even feature in the majors (if at all) for 3-4 years onward. But as someone who knows the actual details, it made understanding the storyline that the movie was telling that much more difficult.
In the end, my wife thought it was a “good movie” so its subsequent accolades seem in order. Hollywood can’t really make a movie that appeals to the fraction of 1% of baseball fans who read that book and understood its statistical analysis. You have to appeal to the masses for commercial success.
But I found myself struggling to decide whether I thought the movie was “good” or not. It was entertaining. The actors were ok, I guess. I know many have criticized the Art Howe portrayal in the movie … but then again many criticized the portrayal of Howe in the book as well. Lewis seemed to belittle many people in the book as a way of playing up his primary character. But nothing about the movie really convinced me it was a seminal movie, that it was some great masterpiece of filmmaking that was worthy of an Oscar nomination for Best Picture.
What did you guys think?