Moneyball opens with a black screen and the static noise of a raucous baseball game, a world series game. Layered in between grainy clips of America's iconic pastime are the simple facts of the huge difference in payroll between teams in Major League Baseball. From this rough beginning to the end, whether the viewer is a baseball fan or not, the movie pulls you into the game — into the statistics and the culture — and doesn’t let go. It doesn’t matter if you have followed baseball your entire life or if you’ve rolled your eyes at it and called it boring, by the time the story reaches the climactic game in the Oakland Colisseum, the viewer is more emotionally invested in the outcome and the things at stake than they ever thought possible for a game involving the Oakland A’s.
Our national pastime, baseball, came to be known as such because it was thought to be a game of the people. In the early 1900s everyone played baseball, and if you had that special something you could make it to one of the major franchise teams. However, your salary would be about the same as the average working man due to a complicated system of owner agreements. People flocked to games and thought of the players as “our boys,” middle-class, hardworking people, like the rest of us. Then came the term "free agent," and baseball was completely flipped on its head. Players could name their price to play, and they were not humble with their requests. Now, baseball has larger-than-life players like Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia making $32 million and $24 million, respectively. These two men also both play for the New York Yankees, which is not surprising.
To put it into perspective, Alex Rodriguez’s salary is almost equivalent to the payroll for the entire Kansas City Royals team. In an age where players are more loyal to their bank accounts as opposed to the team that fostered their growth, how can a team without the massive amounts of money that the big boys have think of competing? Well, in 2002 the Oakland A’s manager tried a completely different approach to building a team. Moneyball masterfully focuses in on that season and how an unlikely couple of guys approached changing a game that is firm in its traditions. While the movie focuses heavily on the love of baseball and the love of statistics, knowledge of these subjects is not at all required to be taken in by the plot. Co-scripters Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian do what they do best and take an intelligent, complicated subject and break it down into the most fascinating and entertaining format without losing the complexity of the situation or dumbing it down.
Brad Pitt as Billy Beane and Jonah Hill as Peter Brand seem like they might be an odd combination to put together, but it feels natural and neither of them play into their expected roles. There are a number of humorous scenes between the two, and Jonah Hill is consistently set up as the straight man while Brad Pitt gets the laughs. Jonah Hill plays the awkward, statistics-obsessed assistant excellently and from beginning to end, and we believe every piece of advice he gives to Brad Pitt.
Baseball is all about statistics which is a major reason a lot of people don’t understand it, think it’s boring, etc. Moneyball takes these statistics and edits them into quick summaries of how they work and how these revolutionary men took steps to replace the ego and fame of superstar players with the simplistic building of a team based on numbers. It plays heavily off of the rooting for the underdog which is the bedrock of most every sports movie. Here a team of misfits and managers who with a lack of money, have to get creative if they want a chance at the World Series. While the movie focuses in on the career of Billy Beane and how baseball plays such a role in his entire life and his motivation to turn his low-budget team around, the actors in the smaller roles shine just as bright. The stubborn manager, the washed-up player looking for one last shot at glory, the pitcher with a funny throw who desperately just wants a chance. All of these subplots add depth and emotion to the over-arching themes of baseball, money and statistics.
The love of baseball is a complicated thing that usually takes a lifetime to acquire. Some people are just never hypnotized by the game. But, Moneyball achieves the difficult task of infusing the film with that love making it accessible to everyone, not just the diehard sports fan. At the heart of the game is the individual players on the team and the individual games in a season. By pulling one team, one season, and breaking it down into how they reached for glory, the movie makes everyone an Oakland A’s fan for at least two hours and demonstrates where the real heart of baseball lies. It isn’t really about the money or the statistics. It’s about the intense desire to win and that feeling of loyalty to a team that can often feel like a family.
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