How Can You Not Get Romantic About Baseball: Moneyball (2011)

I enjoy sports movies, mostly for their underdog narrative and quotability.  I will staunchly defend a film like Remember The Titans or Hoosiers as sound pieces of narrative cinema that are both enjoyable and relevant.  However, I am less apt to hone in on sports movies about professional baseball teams with the same kind of support.  This was the case at least until I watched Moneyball.  Perhaps it was the always impressive acting of Brad Pitt or the keen yet accessible dialogue of Aaron Sorkin, but Moneyball was everything I was looking for from a mainstream movie in 2011 and was elated to close out a year of movie going with such a respectable piece of cinema.  Moneyball certainly does not top the art house magic of Tree of Life or the nostalgic beauty of Midnight In Paris, but Bennett Miller's follow up to Capote is what a biopic should be honest, engaging and unbiased.  Moneyball has villains and heroes, yet as a great film reminds its viewers, both sides are fighting a battle that is often much larger then their seemingly petty problems.

As advertisements made clear, Moneyball is based on a true story, that story being of the player turned general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) and his attempt to redeem the 2002 Oakland Athletics from baseball obscurity.  However, his task is rather burdensome because he must do so in the opposition of losing his teams best players to financially powerful teams while also dealing with his own team's relatively miniscule budget.  Believing all to be lost, Beane attempts to make a friendly trade in Cleveland only to discover that the Indian's have hired a wunderkind statistician named Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) to make their trading decisions.  Intrigued by the general manager's willingness to listen to such a young guy, Beane approaches Brand and asks how he makes his decisions.  Brand explains at great length that he has created various mathematical equations about on base percentage and other factors which help to point out that many teams overlook excellent players simply for their appearances, off field antics or assumed aging issues.   Impressed by Brand's attempts to change the face of baseball, Beane hires on Brand and they proceed to change the entire Athletics roster.  This change faces opposition from the teams coach Art Howe (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and head scout Grady Fuson (Ken Medlock).  Furthermore, Beane faces his own issues of the field, which include accepting his own failed attempt at baseball glory, dealing with his life post divorce and keeping a close relationship with his daughter.  Although Beane faces the same end of season loss, Brand's suggestions and Beane's headstrong attitude about baseball lead to the team winning twenty consecutive games thus breaking the MLB record and a new found respect for how baseball could be played.  Beane, however, remained disillusioned by the fact that he still lost and accepts an interview with the Boston Red Sox.  Despite being offered a startling sum of 12.5 million dollars Beane decides to remain at Oakland.  The film closes with a subtle yet poetic image of Beane riding through the decaying landscape of Oakland while listening to a song recorded by his daughter, a statement about the truths of baseball and life, one that reminds viewers that some quests in life cannot be accomplished by statistical analysis and bargaining, but simply must be learned through trial and error.

In classic Sorkin fashion, the narrative seems straightforward and free of social criticism at first glance, however, by the end of the film it is apparent that Moneyball is a blatant critique of corporate oppression in the United States with baseball serving as the venue.   It is blatantly a film about capitalist domination whether it is the ability of the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees to buy out any hopes of a winning chance or his ex-wives change of spouse to someone more financially stable.  However, Sorkin is careful to show how expansive this oppression is through the character of Art Howe who is the villain throughout the film for his refusal to partake in what he believes to be an absurd approach to baseball management.  Howe, though, as Sorkin shows through dialogue is concerned with his own job in the future and would ideally support Beane's decision if it meant his own financial safety.  In a capitalist structure, Howe represents a white male who thinks his power comes from financial security and thus adheres to the structure for what he believes to be his own security when in fact it is a falsely created sense of safety for the capitalist oppressors who care little for his place in the structure.  To the oppressors, in this case teams like Boston and New York, Howe is dispensable and replaceable with a quick signing of a check.  For a team like Oakland, Howe is absolutely necessary, however, they have no ability to financially back this notion.  The rebellion to this aforementioned oppression comes then from Brand who realizes the illogical nature of baseball theory which places its heaviest pride in image and financial revenue as opposed to practicality and functionality.  Thus, the ironically named practice of "moneyball" is about frugality as much as it is about dismissing the need for obstinate amounts of money, a liberal critique of capitalism if ever one existed and an obvious exertion of Aaron Sorkin's power as a respected screenwriter.

Moneyball is one of the films to see from 2011.  It should fair nicely at the Oscar's and might even garner Pitt an Oscar for best actor, even if it should go to him for Tree of Life.  Regardless, go see this film in theaters while you still can, it will be well worth your time and money.

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