“You can have your stats, but you can never take our Rings”

By Geoff Ratliff

I hate movie critics. I hate movie critics because they take themselves too seriously; but mostly I hate them because they generally fail to adjust their perspectives when rating films. Most critics evaluate every movie as if it’s up for Oscar consideration, when ultimately, most movies are just meant to entertain the audience. As a movie fan of varying taste, I know when I buy my ticket that I’m expecting a different experience when I see “Black Swan” than I am when I see “The Expendables.” Don’t insult my intelligence by grading them on the same curve.

I say all this because “Moneyball” does not fall into either of these extremes. It’s probably not going to garner any serious consideration from the Academy, but it’s definitely not a CGI-infested summer blockbuster. It’s also tough to judge the movie on the same plane as other book adaptations because most of those are based on fictional stories where a lot more creative license is allowed in the script. “Moneyball,” the movie adaptation of the wildly polarizing book by Michael Lewis about the Oakland A’s and their Manager Billy Beane, tells us a story based on true events, and in that way, is similar to “The Help,” another popular, yet polarizing book based on the author’s life experiences and recently adapted for the big screen. I haven’t seen “The Help”, nor have I read the book, but a common complaint that I’ve heard from my wife and others who have both read the book and seen the film, is that the movie leaves out some critical details that drastically changes the way that certain events are interpreted, making the spirit of the movie different in a way that is unsatisfying to fans of the memoir. This happens a lot with adaptations because, frankly, Hollywood has a different agenda than an author, and generating revenue always comes at the expense of maintaining the integrity of the story.

I am a big fan of the Oakland A’s – my little league team was named the A’s and I lived in Oakland for a short time as an adult – and a general baseball devotee, so my expectations for the movie were drastically different than that of the casual movie goer (someone like my wife who frankly knows very little about the business of baseball and only wants to see the film because Brad Pitt is in it. She was legitimately bummed that I went to see it without her in order to get this review done in a timely fashion).

I really enjoyed the film. Pitt, Jonah Hill, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman turned in outstanding performances as Beane, Peter Brand, and Art Howe respectively. I was particularly impressed by how Pitt and Hoffman’s chemistry captured the tension between a general manager struggling to implement change versus an experienced, lame-duck manager, who was literally managing for his baseball life.

Hollywood was given somewhat of a bunny here in that the book is as much about Beane the man as it is about Moneyball the theory, so focusing a lot of the film on his personal struggles in the game and how those colored his decisions in running the A’s doesn’t seem out of sorts. It actually serves as a pretty good build up to the movie’s conclusion.The film could have stood to shed 10-15 minutes of running time, but you could say that about any film when you’r e sitting in a half-empty theater at 2:30am.

What the movie is not, is an accurate portrayal of how business is done at the major league level. “Moneyball” creates the illusion that trading players in real life is as easy as pulling off a deal with a buddy in your fantasy league; while that’s great for dramatic effect, it would be unfortunate if that influenced someone’s interpretation of how deals get done at the professional level. “Moneyball” is also not the unapologetic ode to sabermetrics that Jason Whitlock’s recent column would have you believe. Sure, the use of statistics to analyze player performance has reached an all-time high, but I think the movie subtly illuminates the fact that baseball, while easily the most stats driven of the major professional sports, is still a game that is subject to very little innovation in the way that it is successfully played. “Moneyball” doesn’t come right out and say it, but part of baseball’s greatness is captured in the fact that the game looks almost exactly the same as it did 150 years ago, so while the emergence of advanced metrics for player evaluation made stat geeks sexy – and rich – for a time, the best teams still have to consistently hit, pitch and field better than their opponents. In that regard, score one for the way it’s always been done, but for those who are obsessed with stats, I’ll give the movie a very positive 4 out of 5 stars.

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