16 December 2011

Moneyball

Pacing-wise, this is one of the strangest movies I've seen in awhile. Something about it felt totally haphazard. It couldn't seem to decide what aspect of the story it was most interested in, the A's, Billy Beane, his baseball past, his family life, his 'quest to change baseball,' the system behind it... It all became a bit of a hodge podge. The acting, for the most part, is excellent - however you feel about Brad Pitt, you can't help but admit that he's a pretty good actor. Though the movie did call for him kicking/punching things and being UPSET a lot, which got pretty old.

So, to my mind, the most interesting thing in the movie is the 'system.' The movie presents this as Billy Beane stumbling across a young guy* (played by Jonah Hill) who studied econ at Harvard, specifically, the theories of a guy named Bill James, that basically introduce a totally new way to think about how baseball works, and specifically, how to draft players. This is pretty fascinating stuff, and you can bet I'll be reading Michael Lewis' book to learn more about it**, because the movie didn't nerd out on it nearly enough to my satisfaction. Partly, I guess, because they figured readers would get bored. But I wonder if it's also because the kind of changes to the game that it brings about are the same ones that would make it rather un-cinematic. There are a few shining moments of sports heroism in the film, and what you realize later is that they basically go against the entire system. Of course, those moments are anomalous even in regular baseball - that's what makes them heroic. But at the same time, the argument against the system seems to be, to some extent, that it's changing the game, and if anything, it would seem that it's changing the game precisely to eliminate moments like that. I really hope this is something the book discusses.

The best part about the movie, actually, is some of the dialogue. It's kind of amazing. Lots of the movie is kind of meh and uninteresting, and then there are these occasional scenes that are just phenomenal, with fantastic, snappy dialogue. I suspect this is Aaron Sorkin's doing, because I think that's what he's good at. I also think he's not so good at telling stories well in a movie format (I really, really didn't like The Social Network). I want him to team up with someone who's good at crafting narratives and start making good, old-fashioned Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn type romantic comedies. Wouldn't that be awesome? Sorry, tangent. The point being - there are some really wonderful scenes.

Still though, I wouldn't say this is one you need to rush out and see in theatres. I think that if you're not into baseball, its appeal is pretty limited (and if you are into baseball, you'll quite possibly be frustrated by how little of it you get). The main flaws of the movie are the extensive amount of time it devotes to Beane's past (when it flashed the picture of him as a young player for the 8th time I was like OK I GET IT, HE USED TO PLAY) and to his relationship with his daughter. Yeah, she's a sweet kid, and she has a surprisingly good voice***. My friend Margaret pointed out that she's also the only female in the movie, really, which is totally true, and I hadn't even noticed. But she also has almost nothing to do with the story, so her presence on screen was basically dead time, narrative wise (doesn't Laura Mulvey or Teresa de Lauretis or one of those feminist film theorists say that whenever women appear on screen, the action generally grinds to a halt? Totally true, in this case.), and felt like a cheap trick, emotionally. Really, his whole family life seems pretty much beside the point, though his wife's new husband is kind of a fantastic character and makes for some entertaining moments. But they also feel like scenes from a different movie that accidentally got pasted in to this one. The problem is, all the stuff with his daughter is the main thing I remember about the movie, a few days later, which is really unfortunate.

Basically, I'd say this is one you can easily wait for video on, and you'll probably enjoy it more if you've read the book first.

*Wiki tells me this guy was Paul DePodesta, who did not approve of what the movie did with him, forcing them to create a kind of composite character instead.

**I'm really curious to see how much it resembles The Blind Side - which I really liked - does Lewis just have a basic formula, where he writes books about the way a few key people create major changes in the way various sports get played?

***She keeps singing this song through the entire movie, which turns out to be The Show, by Lenka. It sounded so familiar, it was driving me crazy - the internet tells me it was featured on Old Navy commercials, which I guess is where I know it from, though I could've sworn it was in some other twee indie movie, like Juno or something.

4 comments:

Chris Love said...

I somehow ended up sucking some juice out of Moneyball, even though I can't really contest much of what you've written here.

The script was definitely a mess. I sensed at least one flinching producer ordering a rewrite that included the cheesy flashbacks, the gratuitous family scenes, and even the scenes of sports heroism.

Somehow, though, I was vested as hell in the story. I wanted statistics to beat the fluffy religious side of baseball. And really: maybe it was all Pitt and Hill? If so, bravo.

culture_vulture said...

See, I am not sure if I want statistics to beat out the fluffy side. I want there to be a good long argument between the two, and a sustained consideration of each =-)
I also found myself sort of frustrated, in that yes, bravo if it's all Pitt and Hill. Except that this basically means that you have a guy with a good idea, or rather, who has read someone else's idea and perhaps expanded upon it, but who will forever be ignored unless he meets some charismatic, nothing-to-lose guy like Brad Pitt, who can bully everyone into doing what he wants. That is a depressing (though I'm not saying its inaccurate) view of how the world works.
I did enjoy the movie. At the same time, when I was talking to my parents and thinking of whether they would like it, I kind of suspected they wouldn't. Too much sap, not enough system. Though I'm not sure - the story is weird and uneven, but the good parts are _really_ good.

TB said...

I am not into baseball at all but I am interested in the scheme. I spent once a year driving to work with a baseball nut and he convinced me that there is mathematical aspect to the game.

culture_vulture said...

You should probably read the book then. The movie doesn't go into so much detail about the system, and it might not be as easy to understand if you don't know so much about baseball - I think the book is probably more clear. But I will read it soon and report back.