Top critical review
at times on the money
on April 10, 2012
Being a lifelong A's fan I was fascinated exactly as to how Brad Pitt (oops, Brapi playing A's general manager Billy Beane) rebuilt the team in 2002 and got them back into the playoffs after losing three "key" players (including 2000 American League Most Valuable Player Jason Giambi) to free agency from the 2001 playoff team. To do this Beane employs a sabremetric (basically, a unique statistical method of evaluating player performance) strategy dubbed "Moneyball" by the author Michael Lewis who wrote the book of the same name that the movie is based on.
Now, if this sounds too much like fantasy baseball, it kind of is. So, if you're not a sports fan who is interested in the behind-the-scenes machinations of how players are drafted, how trades are made and the inner workings of a baseball franchise, this is probably not the movie for you. There are long stretches where it seems like a lot of talking is going on and not much game action.
The actual game footage spliced into the movie footage works great. It does capture the thrill of the A's record 20 consecutive wins in a row during that season. Yet, like the book, the movie overlooks two major factors that have nothing to do with this Moneyball approach. Firstly, although ex-Giants shortstop Royce Clayton plays that season's AL MVP Miguel Tejada (a holdover from the 2001 team) he's barely a footnote in the story onscreen. Secondly, the A's starting pitching trio of Mike Mulder, Barry Zito and Tim Hudson were huge in the A's 2000-2003 playoff run. In fact, they were arguably one of the best starting pitching staffs in recent MLB history. You do see Hudson a bit in the movie, but the other two are not mentioned at all.
Also, there was a lot of artistic license as Jeremy Giambi and Carlos Pena end up being traded on the same day for dramatic effect. The reality was Giambi was traded on May 22, 2002, and Pena was dealt July 5. Also, when Pitt discusses picking up submarining relief pitcher Chad Bradford at his meeting with the team's scouts prior to the 2002, I half expected some scout to tell Pitt that Bradford was already on the team. The A's acquired him in 2001.
The fictional Ivy League educated stat wizard Peter Brand (played brilliantly low key by Jonah Hill) in the movies joins the A's in 2002 as Beane's righthand man. The real-life Paul DePodesta, whom the fictional Brand is based on, actually joined the A's in 1999.
Also, the movie seems a bit unfair to A's manager Art Howe (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman). Howe led the A's to three straight playoff appearances. He may have been old school, but did he really butt heads that much with Beane over lineup choices? Maybe he did but how about giving Howe a bit of credit for that 20-game winning streak as well? I'm pretty sure some of his managerial moves helped that streak along.
OK, that's the nitpicking as an A's fan. Moneyball is still a terrific movie in showing how a small market team with a very low budget could compete with the likes of the deep pockets New York Yankees et al. The search for undervalued players was spot on as was how Beane faced off against the old school style of scouting and evaluating players. The hero of the movie, Scott Hatteburg, a catcher turned first baseman, did prove to be of good value and a bargain to boot. Yet like the book, the movie makes too much of a case that the Moneyball way of finding undervalued assets led to the A's success in 2002. Moneyball was just part of the winning formula as having an MVP (Tejada) and those three great pitchers were major factors as well in the streak. Still it's pretty compelling to watch the streak unfold on the big screen.
The extras have a terrific behind-the-scenes look at how the movie was made with Major League Baseball's full cooperation in helping the baseball scenes in actual MLB ballparks look as real as possible right down to the era's uniforms. There's also a good discussion on the whole Moneyball theory with Billy Beane adding his own insight.
Lastly, for trivia buffs, you have got to love the framed Clash posters in Beane's office. Who wouldn't love a baseball GM into punk rock from his era?