Moneyball (2011)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Moneyball</strong> (2011)

(In theaters, October 2011) Something isn’t quite right with this Moneyball, but it took me a reading through the original book to finally understand why.  As a sports drama in which underdogs defeat their opponents through cleverness and unorthodox thinking, it does manage to boil down a complex and dry subject into a narrative that most people (including those without much baseball knowledge) will be able to follow and enjoy.  Brad Pitt is surprisingly good as the Oakland Athletics’s general manager Billy Beane trying to make the most out of the small budget he’s given –hiring oddball players and constantly running the numbers game is one way that the story plays out in the good old underdog sports drama narrative.  But sometimes, it does too neat a job: While Michael Lewis’ book makes it clear that the sabermetrisation of pro baseball was (and continues to be) a lengthy process in which the 2002 season was just another step, the film condenses decades of thinking into a single year, and heavily dramatizes the events in such a way that they lose their intended meaning.  Sabermetrics is about squeezing a few percentage points here and there, enough so that statistically, you end up with better results at the end of the year.  So what’s Moneyball’s most triumphant sequence?  The complete statistical anomaly of winning twenty games in a row (and that last one on a heroic shot), something that actually undermines the argument made by the picture.  Once that twentieth game is won, the film has nowhere to go: while the team makes it to the finals, they lose their season.  Other teams would take ideas similar to Beane’s and run with them.  The elements that make Lewis’ Moneyball an interesting book aren’t necessarily those that make for a sports drama and the film occasionally suffers from the contradiction.  Still, it’s churlish to criticise the film for fairly esoteric reasons: On most aspects, Moneyball is a solid sports drama with enough comic relief to make it work, and it’s hard to overestimate the work that has gone in transforming the non-fiction original book into something that feels like a classic baseball movie.  The container, however, may be part of the problem.

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