By Maryann O’Connor
It’s 2001. It’s baseball. The Oakland A’s are facing yet another loss in the most important game of their season, beaten by the New York Yankees, a team of several times their worth. The A’s then suffer the humiliation of having their best players poached by more heavily-backed teams. Moneyball, based on true events, tells the story of the team management as they contemplate their uncertain future with limited funds.
What can these teams do, I hear you wail, if they don’t have the money to get the ‘good’ players? Well if you are Brad Pitt’s character, the General Manager of the Oakland A’s, Billy Beane, you first pitch up (sorry) to one of those bigger teams and almost beg to have whatever player they are willing to get rid of. Then you notice that an unimposing figure in a suit (Jonah Hill) is the one telling the big team coach and managers what to think about each player. You correctly identify that he is the one player worth poaching from that team and then the game-changing fun may begin.
Moneyball refers to the practice of evaluating each player from the standpoint of consistent performance and thus organising your team appropriately to get the wins. Gone are the high profile ‘top’ players with their often erratic performance, similarly their big wage packets and the seemingly insurmountable difference between rich and poor teams are also gone. Will this strategy be Oakland’s saviour?
I must say I was sceptical about how much I would enjoy this film. It is however, a very enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours. Do I need to mention that the original story was written by Michael Lewis (also author of The Blind Side) and that Aaron Sorkin helped out with the screenplay? Ok, well there you go. We can all agree that the film had form and was much anticipated. It mostly delivers on that promise.
Brad Pitt is opaque as failed baseball star turned GM Billy Beane: you have no idea what drives him, except that it’s definitely not money. Maybe he just wants to show everyone in the baseball world that they don’t know anything about anything, so there. Jonah Hill is endearing as geeky Ivy League graduate Peter Brand, an utterly devoted believer in the power of statistics. Philip Seymour Hoffman was infuriatingly sluggish as the powerless team coach. The director, Bennett Miller, appears to favour directing a good biopic and he acquits himself well with this one.
The story was good; a fairly fresh approach to the sports film – discussing common issues of management and stardom plaguing every team sport rather than focusing on the well-worn track of sadly disadvantaged teams winning the day (against all odds). The only weak point appeared to be the addition of the sidebar ‘family’ story which didn’t quite fit, maybe an attempt to provide more of a human side to GM Beane.
This film has a little something for everyone. Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill are a surprisingly good double act: it was most refreshing to see Hill in a non-farcical role. I believe there is more of this to come from him and I rejoice. The narrative isn’t obvious and is well-paced. It makes you think about what makes a successful team, both in sport and life.
The players who shout loudest or get paid the most are often not the most valuable, as anyone who has ever taken part in fantasy football (or life in general) can attest to.