Well, I’ll tell ya – you can’t! Especially if you are watching this year’s under-rated film, Moneyball. On the other hand, given Brad Pitt‘s star quality, it’s hard to say the movie was under-rated, but I do think it hasn’t generated any “buzz” the way say, The Iron Lady, The Descendents and Incredibly Close and Extremely Loud has. However, let’s clarify that even further; Those three films and most especially the Tom Hanks movie which must be advertised on TV at least 15 times a day have gotten a lot of press, a lot of billboard space and a lot of attention by reviewers. My God, you would think Incredibly Close and Extremely Loud was the epic sequel to Ben Hur or Forrest Gump!
But back to Moneyball; I had the delightful opportunity to view this movie in my own home, sitting cosily on my couch, drinking hot chocolate while it snowed outside on a Saturday afternoon. It was surprisingly wonderful and engaging. You don’t even have to be a sports fan to love it! Brad Pitt gives Billy Beane the look of a former athlete still very much in shape, and his performance is superb.
First of all who doesn’t love baseball? After all it is our national pastime or pass time. The storyline isn’t exactly new since we’ve all seen the the evolution of a rag tag team reaching ultimate victory – ie Miracle- True story of the 1980 US Olympic Hockey team or A League of Their Own. However, the treatment of this story line takes the viewer to the ball park and back, into the locker room and best of all into the psyche of the General Manager of the Oakland Athletics.
Billy Beane is a conflicted and somewhat lonely man, recovering from a failed marriage and a losing season. He lives, works, eats and sometimes sleeps baseball – except when he is with his daughter who he apparently dotes on. Casey is charmingly played by Kerris Dorsey, a sweet pre-teen who lives with her mom and stepdad and regularly visits her father.
Billy is driven to succeed which in his mind translates into winning the last game. He truly believes it doesn’t matter how many games you win because if you don’t win the last one (World Series) then your achievements as well as yourself are just erased.* The problem he faces is that his player salary is so low, he feels he can’t compete with the deep pocket of teams like the New York Yankess who regularly raid his best players, luring them with astronomical salaries. What is General Manager supposed to do? So for him in one respect it was all about winning, yet on the other hand, he aspired to change the game in a way that would level the economic playing field (no pun intended) between the so-called rich teams and poor teams, the Oakland A’s being of the latter. He is quoted as saying to his genius Assistant General Manager, (Joshua Hill) that he believed in their new and highly technical process of forming a winning team, not for the money or the ring, but because he wanted to change the game. Out with the old (literally) men/scouts and their ideas of what makes a great ballplayer and in with the new analytical technology. Adapt or die.
By season’s end the team is winning and Beane is called to Boston, where he is offered the position of GM for the Boston Red Sox by the owner of the team who extolls the genius of his new selection process and who clearly states it is the wave of the future! Hence, Billy has in fact changed the game. So why is he so disenchanted? I’m not positive but he was consistent in his quest to win the big one here in his home town. There are many camera shots of Billy as a young Little League player wearing the green tee shirt of the Oakland A’s. He failed dismally as the baseball great, so many scouts thought he was to be so perhaps he had something to prove to himself and Oakland. And then factor in the daughter who does not want him to leave California and move far away from her. It’s hard to leave home and in the end he doesn’t.
The acting was terrific in this movie; Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the bullet-headed, big gut manager was convincing. The character actors who played the various scouts and coaches sitting around the table were remarkably true to life and hardly seemed like actors, they were so natural.
One last word about Pitt. Sometimes when a star is a star and on screen, all you can really see is the star. Very few transcend their celebrity and embody a character so well that you stop seeing the actor and see only the character. Meryl Streep is an excellent example and Brad Pitt as Billy Beane is another.
* Props to the Director who worked with the technical department – at the end of the movie, the players slowly disappear or rather are erased.
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