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Monday Movies is Worth $6 Million, but You Can Have Him for $237,000

In Moneyball, the screen adaptation of the Michael Lewis non-fiction book of the same name, Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland A’s. He’s had a near-miss season that resulted in the poaching of his top three players by teams with fatter payrolls. With the help of a 25-year-old Yale economics major named Peter Brand (Jonah Hill, based on real-life Paul DePodesto) he assembles a team based on unsentimental number-crunching, flying in the face of his scouts’ folk wisdom about what makes a great player, e.g. “He’s the kind of guy, he walks into a room, his cock’s already been there for two minutes.” The rest is baseball history, of which I know not a goddamn thing, but suffice it to say that the rough-diamond/ugly-duckling A’s more than hold their own against the Scrooge McDucks of Major League Baseball.

Steven Soderbergh was in charge of the adaptation for a while; reportedly, his rewrite of the Steve Zaillian script mixed documentary footage into Zaillian’s dramatic narrative, and Sony eventually pushed him off of the project. Aaron Sorkin then rewrote Zaillian’s script, and director Bennett Miller shot elements of both versions. (Screenwriting trivia: the designation “Screenplay by Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin” means that Sorkin’s work followed Zaillian’s; a screenplay by “Steve Zaillian & Aaron Sorkin” would mean that the two wrote as a team.) Sorkin’s influence feels present but reined in — it’s a movie about the transformative power of ideas, but the transformations are grinding and stoic, not enacted through cataclysms of persuasive speechifying.

The “sabremetric” approach extinguishes ineffability and sentimentality from player evaluation, both of which are central to baseball movies and have a good hand in storytelling in general. Almost all the players are reduced to their statistical importance; the conflict becomes about whether Beane will be allowed to deploy them as the chess pieces he’s come to see them as. Enjoyably, the movie underplays this conflict rather than making up for its aridity with operatic you-can’t-handle-the-truth-ifying (although Beane does throw a lot of things). Philip Seymour Hoffman’s team manager’s sustained battle with Beane is a gentlemanly war of attrition, with each man moving against the other as if playing a chess match through the mail.

There are two gestures that are repeated three times each and become, in their way, central to the story that Moneyball is telling. One is the presentation of a monetary offer on a piece of paper. “We believe in your son’s ability, and we thing the offer on this piece of paper represents the strength of that belief,” a scout tells young Billy and his parents in a flashback; that same moment gets replayed once, and the gesture is restaged as a final victory, an offer from the owner of a rival club to Billy as an adult that validates the results of his moneyball season.

The second triply played gesture is the liquidation of labor, in this case letting a player know he’s been traded or sent down to the minor leagues. Beane tells Brand it’s part of the job, and teaches him how to do it swiftly: “Would you rather get one bullet in the head, or five in the chest and bleed to death?” Brand delivers the news to one player, and Beane to two others. None reacts with more than a minor show of dismay.

Moneyball is a capitalist underdog story mixed with a Taylorist triumph: Beane, whose baseball career was a classic case of high expectations and dismal results, prevails by rationalizing and disenchanting baseball.

Chris Pratt’s catcher-turned-first-baseman Scott Hatteberg is the only player who gets a baseball romance. Because of nerve damage, he’s a bargain to sign (the ne plus ultra of moneyball) and he can no longer catch, forcing him to learn to play first base. His fear and his ultimate heroic performance are showcased, and he’s as enjoyable to watch here as he is on Parks & Recreation, where his optimistic exertions have made him my favorite character. But Moneyball is not a movie about baseball players.



September 26, 2011 - Posted by | Monday Movies | , , , , , , ,


  1. I may have to see Moneyball — I didn’t realize Aaron Sorkin was involved.

    This week, we actually watched kind of a lot of movies. We went to see Drive with APS and his wife, and I thought it was pretty great. I also needed to watch a screen adaptation of Porgy and Bess for the intro to fine arts class that I’m auditing at Shimer, and that was fine.

    Finally, we watched Happiness, which was really amazing. The Girlfriend was traumatized by the ending, and of course we now both have to live with the fact that we were rooting for a child molestor. As The Girlfriend points out, the costume designer deserved some kind of award — everyone’s clothes were spot on in an incredibly detailed way (ranging from Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s consistent failure to wear basic men’s clothing, to the child molestor’s perfect dress with a slightly skewed necktie, to the Floridian bright colors of the mother and her social circle).

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | September 26, 2011

  2. 9/20/11 – 1778 Stories of Me and My Wife – Hoshi 2011 5/10
    Somehow I felt the all the people behind this movie were well-intentioned but just not very bright
    9/21/11 – Kiru – Okamoto 1968 8/10
    The near end of this film made me wonder whether the end of Kitano’s Zatoichi was an allusion to it;Nakadai is a more versatile actor than Mifune, he has brilliant comedic timing
    9/22/11 – The Railroader – Furuhata 1999 6/10
    Takakura carries a movie at age 68;beautiful Hokkaido
    9/23/11 – Floating Weeds – Ozu 1934
    The 59 remake has 3! of the best actresses of its age, but this leading lady has only one credit and a terrific sneer
    9/24/11 – The Wind Will Carry Us – Kiarostami 1999 9/10
    Shocking. 1st I was befuddled, then amused, then amazed. Very very great profound art.
    9/25/11 – Love and Honor – Yamada 2006 8/10 on commercial genre scale
    Norman Rockwell becomes Andrew Wyeth. Ok, not quite, but Yamada delivers feelgood movies with more class (and more edge) than he is given credit for. Dependable, great set design etc, a little depth, gets best from actors. He ain’t Kiarostami, but not guilty pleasures either. “Samurai Trilogy” is recommended without hesitation. The books are supposed to be better, but Yamada gets the relevant theme of honor and compassion in an transitional age across well enough

    Comment by bob mcmanus | September 26, 2011

  3. As a borderline obsessive baseball fan, I think a lot of people I know assume I’d be anxious to see Moneyball. The truth is I avoid baseball movies and I’ve only ever read two baseball books and that’s including The Natural. The reason I avoid them is the way they butcher the in-game action always annoys me and the trumped up Hollywood drama pales in comparison to the natural torturous tension of watching a real game. I may break protocol with Moneyball, though, because most of the reviews I’ve read say it’s a well told story that isn’t so much about baseball.

    As for movies I watched, I don’t think I watched any over the past week other than bits and pieces of movies I’d already seen. Most of my TV time was absorbed by catching up on DVRd shows and appropriately enough, baseball.

    Comment by Matt in Toledo | September 26, 2011

  4. “Drive” sounds a lot like “Transporter IV,” which raises an important question: who the hell thought that Gosling was Hollywood’s “premier wheelman”?

    Comment by Craig McFarlane | September 26, 2011

  5. John Moe had a good run of movie-related tweets that I will reproduce for you:

    There’s this one scene where the bad guys take everyone’s cars and then Drive rescues the cars. Go Drive go! Thanks, Drive!

    Those racist bank robbers are going to be scared when The Help busts into their hideout. Go The Help go!

    My favorite scene is when Moneyball helps out the orphanage by throwing 100mph wads of cash at them. Go, Moneyball, go!

    He pointed out that these were all derived from “an Andy Richter Die Hard joke in 1995.”

    Comment by Josh K-sky | September 26, 2011

  6. i watched only archer, but that belongs to thursdays

    Comment by read | September 26, 2011

  7. You are well worth over 6M. The problem is that you’re well worth over 6M only to people who don’t even have 237K to spend.

    Comment by Guido Nius | September 26, 2011

  8. Adam, you know Palindromes is the Bizarro-cast sequel to Happiness? Go deep into the trauma.

    Comment by Josh K-sky | September 26, 2011

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