I often meet the claim, “Based on a true story,” with nothing less than trepidation, but with Moneyball, the expectations were raised: baseball, Brad Pitt… that seems pretty hard to screw it up. The film makers sure did try, though.
The movie starts at the end the Oakland Athletics 2001 season. After winning the first two games, my beloved Yankees came back to take the series from them 3 games to 2 (which included the now legendary Derek Jeter flip play in game three) and ended the As season. Because Oakland is always light on payroll, they will not be able to retain their two best position players, first baseman Jason Giambi (who signed an enormous contract with the Yankees) and center fielder Johnny Damon (who signed a hefty contract with the Boston Red Sox). Making up the offense that these departing players contributed is the primary goal during the 2001-2002 off season, and Beane decides to ignore the advice of his scouts and coaches and instead embrace the Billy James philosophy proposed by the Peter Brand character, which essentially evaluates players based almost entirely from their advanced statistics rather than traditional baseball scouting practices of believing what your eyes tell you and traditional stats such as batting average and RBI.
Essentially, the movie makes two arguments:
- “You don’t put a team together with a computer, Billy,” says the Grady Fuson character.
- “I can’t compete against a hundred and twenty million payroll with thirty eight million dollars,” says the Billy Beane character. So, the logic is, don’t try, but instead, think differently.
As a lifelong baseball fan, I can tell you that both of these arguments are false. You can put a team together with a computer, but that isn’t going to solve all of your problems (because you’re not going to be able to acquire much in the way of pitching using this method – small market teams develop quality pitching via draft picks and their farm system… like the 2002 As did, but I’ll get back to that later) and as any Yankee fan can tell you, you can’t buy a World Series victory with a checkbook, no matter how hard you try (see the Yankees 2004 through 2008 seasons) – New York Mets fans know this better than Yankees fans, and Boston Red Sox fans got a taste of this in 2011 that frankly boggles the mind. Certainly, the Bill James philosophy has plenty of merit, but in my view, the teams with low payroll and a high level of success do it by drafting young talent (making the most of their high draft picks) and developing that talent into impact players at the Major League level. Bill James’ philosophy has more than earned its place in Major League Baseball, but it’s not the answer to everything, just a new tool in the toolbox.
Here’s a few points that ultimately dropped this movie’s score from a 4 to a 3.5.
I love it when directors and editors let an actor play out a scene on their face – meaning no dialogue, just let the actor do their thing and convey everything you need to know without speaking a single word. That is awesome – but this movie took it too far and used this device too often. How many close ups of Brad Pitt driving around in his truck do we need, and why do they have to last for so long? I half expected them to wedge a car crash into the movie because he’s in the car so damn much.
The subplots concerning Billy Beane’s professional baseball career did not interest me. I guess it was there to both flesh out his character and to perhaps show why he was willing to fly in the face of convention and reject the standard baseball scouting system, but I feel that this idea robs Beane’s character of his courage and forward thinking and just turns him into some spiteful prick.
I also couldn’t get excited about what was going on in Billy Beane’s personal life. I’m assuming that the idea is to (again) flesh out his character, but this didn’t do anything for me. Billy’s daughter, Casey Beane, is played by 13-year-old Kerris Dorsey, and she’s brilliant in the role, but nothing ever seemed to be at stake regarding their relationship, so it just felt like it was making the movie longer, particularly when she was singing. I thought the inclusion of the scene where Beane is making them ice cream was more than enough to illustrate that he has a daughter, he loves her and if he loses his job, it would impact their relationship. There’s your tension – that’s all we needed. The rest just seemed like filler – I don’t care that there is tension between Beane and his ex-wife and her new husband… the scene concerning Casey having a cell phone was totally unnecessary.
What Year is it?
Kerris Dorsey’s rendition of Lenka’s “The Show” kinda pulled me out of the movie for a moment – I didn’t know what year that song was released until I looked it up (it’s on Lenka’s debut album of the same name, circa 2008), but I certainly knew that song was not out in 2001/2002. To me, it seemed like a weird choice for a movie that was so ingrained in a specific time period and took the time to have year-appropriate cell phone models as props.
I don’t have a problem with a minimalist soundtrack, but like The Social Network, Moneyball’s droning got on my nerves after a while. However, the movie did make excellent use of silence – it’s rare that you can hear a film projector spinning for what seems like minutes at a time while you’re sitting in a theater. If you’re going to reuse the same music cue over and over again, it had better be a good one – and this one was not.
The Big Three
My biggest proverbial beef with Moneyball is the nearly total absence of their starting rotation’s big three: Tim Hudson, Barry Ztio and Mark Mulder. You saw a guy with ‘Hudson’ on his back during one of the game scenes, but that’s it. Why is this such a glaring omission? First off, not mentioning a team’s starting rotation is like doing a bio pic on a government and not having any scenes with the president. Also, these three guys put up serious numbers – check it:
If you don’t follow baseball, these numbers might not mean anything to you, so let me say this: Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder both had great years in 2002, and Barry Ztio not only had the best year of his career, but he was probably the best pitcher in the league that year, earning him the Cy Young award. So why would it be important to mention these guys? They only had 57 wins between them and 650+ innings pitched, so yeah, doesn’t seem important. Sorry, this might seem like a pretentious complaint, but these guys were the heart of the team and although it didn’t hurt the narrative flow of the movie, such a departure of reality is totally unfair to these guys, to baseball, baseball fans and the movie going public – and sometimes the baseball blogger in me comes out and shouts, “Are you kidding me?!?” when I watch baseball movies.
I believe the reason that these players and their place in 2002 Oakland Athletics history is omitted from this movie is because it doesn’t support the movie’s argument concerning the idea that specific players are undervalued for the wrong reasons… also, it kinda undercuts the idea that Oakland is an underdog when they have three of the best pitchers in the league on their starting staff.
Still, Moneyball is a good flick and worth a look for the baseball and non-baseball/non-sports fan. The cinematography is pretty good and Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill and Phillip Seymour Hoffman are all great in it.
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5
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Having seen two buddy movies of the cop variety within a few days of each other, I can’t help but compare and contrast Cop Out and The Other Guys – it’s time for a Buddy Cop Movie Smack Down!
The IMDB description of The Other Guys reads, in part: “Two mismatched New York City detectives seize an opportunity to step up like the city’s top cops whom they idolize — only things don’t quite go as planned.” I take exception to that; I didn’t find Will Ferrell or Mark Wahlberg to be especially mismatched. Both characters were extremely weird – going into the film, you expected Ferrell to be the crazy guy and Wahlberg to be the straight man, but it’s not like that; neither of them play the straight man, they’re both just crazy. While Ferrell’s character tries to control his inner demons by insulating himself from the outside world, Wahlberg’s character just screams at everybody, unable to harness his anger into anything constructive. They play off each other well as actors, but the script never defines their roles – the characters are too similar, despite Wahlberg’s barking and Ferrell’s straight faced insanity; you end up with Wahlberg’s character complaining that he’s stuck with Ferrell’s, while Ferrell’s would be equally justified in voicing similar complaints.
I saw the unrated version and frankly, I think this was just a marketing ploy – it was just a version of the movie that was not rated by the MPAA; there wasn’t anything racy in it; I’m guessing it was longer than the theatrical version, and if that’s the case, watching this version was a mistake, because the movie is just too long… yep, here it is: 107 min rated, 116 min unrated… but even 107 minutes was too long. The movie just isn’t paced well.
Now that’s not to say there aren’t laughs, because there are a ton of great jokes running through the entire film, and with two cameos by Derek Jeter, how can you go wrong? Well, I wouldn’t go as far as to say they got it right, because the movie is a comedy and it’s funny, but I certainly wouldn’t watch it again.
My Rating: 3 out of 5
A few nights later, I saw Cop Out, and given my high expectations by the joining of three of my favorite talents (Bruce Willis, Tracy Morgan and Kevin Smith), I wasn’t disappointed. Tracey Morgan sets the tone for the movie right away as he interrogates a criminal with a series of quotes from various movies, much to the delight of his coworkers. This opening sequence, including before the interrogation, during which Morgan’s character gives Willis’ character an anniversary card celebrating their partnership sets up the entire movie: sure, both characters are silly, but Morgan is the executive in charge of insanity in this flick. Willis makes jokes, sure, but he’s the straight man and Morgan is a maniac, running around in a cell phone costume and planting a nanny cam in his bedroom to check if his wife is cheating on him. As an added bonus, supporting actors include Kevin Pollak and Guillermo Díaz (he’s Scarface in Half Baked, amongst many other acting credits and just being one of the funniest guys around – in a rare roll here as the bad guy), who bring a level of depth to the movie I did not expect. And just to add a little somethin-somethin, we also get Jason Lee, Rashida Jones and Seann William Scott. Beyond the performances, the script is well crafted and the movie is well paced and edited. And, I can’t believe I’m saying this about a Kevin Smith movie, but the flick actually looks pretty good; the camera moves around, there are reveals… stuff I didn’t know David Klein was capable of. There was a weird helicopter shot at the very end of the movie, but whatever. I really liked this movie, and I’ll watch it again, no doubt.
My Rating: 4 out of 5
In my view, Cop Out kicks The Other Guys’ ass, and easily at that. The version I saw of The Other Guys was only 9 minutes longer than Cop Out, yet Cop Out moves so much faster and is just straight up funnier, has better action sequences and overall flow. Sure, The Other Guys is a decent enough movie, but it’s just not in the same class as Cop Out. Who knows, over time, i wouldn’t be surprised if I raise Cop Out’s score a bit; I think I was disappointed Jason Lee wasn’t in the movie more, and that might have held me back a little – so an update to 4.3 or 4.5 could happen as time goes by and I see Cop Out a second or third time.
And that’s what it comes down to – Cop Out is so good, I’d watch it again. I’m not mad I sat through The Other Guys, but I don’t see myself sitting through it for a second time..