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‘Moneyball’ an ambitious miscalculation

September 22nd, 2011

For a sports movie, “Moneyball” is a peculiar curiosity.

Packed with the impressive creative power of Oscar-nominated director Bennett Miller (“Capote”) and Oscar-winning screenwriters Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network”) and Steve Zaillian (“Schindler’s List”), the film tries to be unique by focusing on statistics rather than playing the game. It skips the climax we’re used to, and doesn’t hit any of the traditional sport beats.

With this unique approach, it challenges why we watch sports films. Sadly, while it does deliver one of the more intelligent cinematic tributes to baseball since “Field of Dreams,” “Moneyball” mainly fails at being enjoyable, emotional, or even particularly memorable.

Based on Michael Lewis’ book, weary Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) is faced with creating a championship team with $39 million against the Yankees’ $125 million.

Things look hopeless until Beane meets Yale graduate Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), who tells him that changing the conventions of how teams evaluate players’ potential could save the A’s, Beane attempts to build one of the most unorthodox baseball teams of misfits ever assembled.

Like the “2002 Athletics,” “Moneyball” may be ballsy in its ambition to change the way we view baseball, but it’s also highly erratic in how its main goal succeeds and fails in turn.

When things are running smoothly, the result is undeniably appealing. But when things get rough, it gets almost painful to watch. The film isn’t a bad one, instead it simply underwhelms considering the raw talent and aspiration involved. So many ill-timed, boring, or downright bad moments occur that they hinder us from establishing a genuine emotional core for the characters or the film. From an atrocious musical score that viciously detracts from every scene it’s in to the bland and sluggish variety of filler scenes, that gives the film its “blah” moments.

Even stranger, nothing remotely resembles the memorable Oscar-worthy brilliance of Sorkin’s earlier work. There is no discourse I remember enough to write down. The scenes that remind us why we’re still enjoying ourselves are the ones when Beane is putting his negotiation tactics in overdrive. These scenes are funny, witty, engaging, and not nearly as often as I’d like. Ultimately, “Moneyball” isn’t so much about Billy Beane or the Oakland A’s as it is about the elusive integrity of baseball.

Its moments of greatness occur when it asks tough questions no other baseball movie has asked, like in Beane’s final monologue. Other films may show baseball, but “Moneyball” tries observing baseball’s iconic stature and asking why it means so much to so many. It asks a seemingly simple question: Can the magic of the game be based on statistics rather than intuition?

The question is relevant. If you’re someone whose reverence of the game approaches an understanding impossible to express, “Moneyball” might just be the baseball film you’ve been waiting for.

But for me, the film is oddly never as engrossing as it should be. Since its creation, the term ‘moneyball’ has entered baseball lexicon as an alternative way of viewing baseball. It may not have changed the game, but it has become something worthy of remembrance.

Unfortunately for this film’s creators, their passion just doesn’t pan out as being worthy of the same benefit.