Moneyball (Devil’s Advocate Review)
Let’s get this out-of-the-way first: Moneyball is not a movie about baseball; it was never intended to be a movie about baseball. And, in an unbelievable turn of events, the book Moneyball is not about baseball. It is a story with baseball as a backdrop; more a lesson in how baseball is a business first, dwelling and hand-wringing over the bottom line, always looking to buy low and sell high. So don’t expect to see a lot of spring training montages or heated rivalries or late-inning home run heroics. Actually, that last one you may see, but don’t get your hopes up.
From the get-go adapting a book about baseball statistics (an easy, but oversimplified two-word synopsis of the book by Michael Lewis) was a difficult – if not impossible – task. How does one make prospect scouting interesting when all of the human (i.e. interesting) pieces are removed? Or edit a trade involving three different teams, a bit of finagling, and a monumental amount of research and cojones seem compelling? Well, don’t ask the director, because he doesn’t know either.
The most theatrical elements of Moneyball the book – Billy Beane struggling with the game he loves, a man finding potential where others see drawbacks, and the team’s unlikely winning streak – are glossed over in the film. Instead the movie hints at each of these stories, never grabbing on to one long enough to fully realize its impact. Lewis knew his in-depth analysis – the graphs and charts; numbers and stats – alone didn’t make a story; he dove into the rocky relationship Beane has with baseball, the rags-to-riches/minors-to-majors tale of Chad Bradford, and the plight of an overweight catcher no one else wanted. He wrote of the people, producing a connection that would otherwise go unnoticed; just another pitcher throwing in relief. But a film audience thrives on action; not always explosions, but something to make the frames move instead of staying static.
The easiest place to quench the crowd’s thirst is in the A’s winning streak. 20 games; a record that still stands today. A feat unknown since the ’47 Yankees (Berra, Rizzuto, DiMaggio) yet matched by a team of castaways on a meager budget. Unfortunately, the streak and its importance to a batch of third-rate players is lost through most of the film with only a glimpse here of a fan holding a sign, or an off-handed comment on “the big game”. Such aloofness to the event diminishes its power, both for what it was historically as well as how it is received cinematically. By relegating the event to a side note the audience forgets and doesn’t give it its proper due as a climactic event. The weight of that 20th game – the jump to a giant lead and its subsequent squandering; the turn-around from bottom-dweller to history-maker; a game-ending home run to win it – all of it lost as Moneyball tries to be something else, crow-baring in a vague family plot and creating locker room drama where none existed.
Interestingly, most of the statistics and thought-provoking questions raised by Beane, DePodesta, and his team of baseball geeks are gone, too. It seems they still can’t get respect in a game where hunches count for more than facts.