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Movie Review: Moneyball


Brad Pitt playing the part of Billy Beane. Photo movie still via

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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?

Written by Todd Boss

March 9th, 2012 at 3:28 pm

10 Responses to 'Movie Review: Moneyball'

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  1. At this juncture, it would be best call it a DVD review. You also left out the extra’s that came with the disc.

    Mark L

    9 Mar 12 at 8:13 pm

  2. Haven’t read the book, haven’t seen the movie. Don’t plan to do either. Why? It’s a total crock.

    How many championships have Bean’s teams won? That’s right, zero. The 2002 A’s didn’t even make it to the ALCS. Do you think the fans in Green Bay are all excited that because the Packers went 15-1 in the regular season this past year?

    Lewis used his superior writing skills to make a folk hero out of a guy whose actual accomplishments are nothing terribly special. After all, OTHER small market teams (cough, cough, Florida Marlins) have actually won it all. They just didn’t do it so loveably.


    9 Mar 12 at 9:51 pm

  3. We got it on-demand :-) No DVD extras.

    Todd Boss

    10 Mar 12 at 11:00 am

  4. I’d say that you have to remember the climate of baseball at the time … I do believe that Beane’s tactics were innovative and ground breaking at the time. But the league has quickly adjusted so now Beane is, if anything, behind the times. My one big beef with the book is the lack of credit given to the pitching staff that Beane inherited.

    I’m not going to kill Beane for never winning the WS; I agree with his premise that the playoffs are a crapshoot. The Yankees only have one WS title in 10 years but the Cardinals have had two; does that mean that the Cardinals are a more successful franchise over the past decade? I’m not sure i’d entirely say that; one team made the playoffs 10 out of 10 years, the other only half the time. Beane’s teams routinely made the playoffs with a fraction of the payroll of his competitors; that’s the story. One year St Louis made the playoffs with an 83-78 record and won the WS; this year they only made the playoffs by virtue of Atlanta’s collapse. So while they won these titles, nobody would argue they were the “best team” in each season.

    Florida was not exactly behaving like a small market team with the rosters they used to win the WS in 97 and 03. Remember the Huizenga sell off after their world series victory? I did a quick calculation and their payroll in 97 was $48M (by way of comparison, the Yankees payroll in 97 was 62M).

    A better example of a modern team to use in comparison is clearly Tampa Bay.

    Todd Boss

    10 Mar 12 at 11:20 am

  5. One other thought on Bdrube’s comment here; Just listened to Bill Simmons’ podcast interview of Bill James and he asked James which was the first team to start really using the more advanced stats/sabremetrics that were coming out and he said unequivocally it was the Oakland A’s and Billy Beane. So, even if you don’t think Beane’s results were worthy on the field, its pretty in arguable that he was the first guy to really move past traditional scouting and start looking at figures that we now take for granted when discussing player merits.

    Todd Boss

    11 Mar 12 at 9:01 am

  6. I also didn’t read the book or see the movie (making me an unqualified expert on BOTH, of course), mainly because I wasn’t interested after I learned how fictional both were. It’s like they wanted to make a MLB version of “The Bad News Bears”, and that naturally requires a group of lovable underdog misfits. And you can’t depict a team as lovable underdog misfits when they have the best rotation in baseball, the AL Cy Young winner (Zito) and the AL MVP (Miguel Tejada). So in order to create their desired narrative, the film makers pretty much deleted Zito, Hudson, and Tejada, et al, from the story. That’s like making the Godfather, but deleting Vito, Sonny, and Michael because you want to focus on how Fredo is the reason that the Corleone family was so successful.

    I know that Boswell, among others, has written that some people (like Davey Johnson when he was with the Mets in the 80’s) utilized “moneyball”-type analysis earlier, but to a lesser extent than Beane, and that Beane was the one who popularized it and made it mainstream in the 2000’s. I don’t know a lot about that, though.


    12 Mar 12 at 8:42 am

  7. I wouldn’t say the book “fictionalized” the importance of those pitchers; I’d say Lewis “de-emphasized” that aspect of the story to support and bolster the characters he was developing. Beane as the good guy, opposing GMs (especially Steve Phillips and Omar Minaya) as bumbling idiots to be taken advantage of, and Art Howe as the meek old school on-field manager who couldn’t follow his nutty professor GM. Lewis did the same thing to some extent in his football book “the Blind side,” talking about how Joe Walsh essentially turned mediocre QBs into hall of famers by virtue of his system.

    Now, as for what happened in the movie? Well, that’s hollywood. A famous JFK biographer (after watching Oliver Stone’s movie JFK and seeing the backlash of conspiracy theory that followed) once uttered, “if I had known how much impact one could have with a movie versus a biography, I would have become a filmmaker.” You can’t help what screenwriters do to make a story. But then that was part of the reason I posted this blog entry in the first place, noting that I really struggled to “enjoy” a movie about true elements that I knew to have occurred in a different fashion.

    As for Johnson being ahead of the curve, I heard it from the horses’s mouth. If Bill James was inarguably the first person out there to really delve into these statistical analyses, and if James says that Beane was the first GM and that Oakland was the first team to make use of his stuff extensively … then I’ll go with Beane as the innovater.

    Todd Boss

    12 Mar 12 at 9:49 am

  8. I haven’t read the book (boo, hiss) and finally saw the movie recently on a long flight. That, of course, didn’t help the movie.

    I’m struggling here because I am a really positive person and don’t enjoy tearing things down. But this movie… sigh. I didn’t like the pacing/storytelling, aside from the truthiness (or lack thereof). I thought it needed editing (though I think that about most movies). I didn’t find it believable, and it didn’t make me root for the fictionalized Beane. I think Keith Law’s review was pretty much spot-on.

    The worst thing about the movie for me is that it’s given my non-baseball fan coworkers a reason to think they know something about baseball, and has given them a “baseball” conversation-starter that they think I’ll like.

    The second-worst thing is that Aaron Sorkin’s name is on it. I love Aaron Sorkin, but this… sigh.


    12 Mar 12 at 1:05 pm

  9. Great feed back. Can’t disagree on a single point. You’d like the book a bit more, but realize that it isn’t perfect either. But agreed, Law’s review is pretty spot on, even if its completely negative :-)

    Todd Boss

    12 Mar 12 at 4:41 pm

  10. Moneyball was fun to watch (only because I’m a bball fan) but far from award worthy–no compelling performances by any actor. Also, I didn’t read the book, but the movie gives the false impression that Bean’s techniques led to the A’s success. As Todd stated, their pitching was tremendous and a major factor in their success. As an aside, Brad Pitt was on the Daily Show a few weeks ago and talked about the workshop they held with real A’s team scouts (some of whom played themselves in the movie). He said one scout relayed a story about a player evaluation meeting when a scout said “this player has an ugly girlfriend”. When asked why this is important, the scout said “means he has bad eyesight.”


    12 Mar 12 at 7:24 pm

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