Saturday, October 22, 2011

Moneyball (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The underdog movie takes many forms. "Moneyball" is the latest of these, focusing on the game of baseball. It is the true story of Billy Beane, an ex pro baseball player who never really made it, yet he became the general manager of the Oakland As. In 2002, Beane led the As to a record season when the team was financially strapped. Beane adopted a controversial method of hiring players based on economics and statistics. The concept was to basically purge the muscle-bound photogenic high-end players and work with low end and mid-level players, to go against type and work with what you have. This was a sacrilegious slap in the face to the tradition of Major League Baseball as it usually worships photogenic and talented players. 
Brad Pitt does a good job as the earnest and hot tempered Beane. As an All-American boy eaten up with regret, I forgot it was Brad Pitt for a while, and given that Pitt is such an iconic actor this is to his credit.  Beane constantly beats himself up in flashback. As a young player full of great promise, he could not hit the ball. He froze up. Outwardly Beane is an extrovert, eager to please, but inside, he festers with frustration and discontent. Mediocrity is not good enough. He wants to win.
Beane meets assistant Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) who tells him of his radical theory. In his role, Hill is refreshingly understated. He is a bit taciturn and humdrum, but he is no comic geek. No "Superbad" or "Funny People" wiener jokes here. The most adolescent he becomes is when he manically high-fives Brad Pitt over a trade deal---The kid within. Alas, the bathroom humored persona of Jonah Hill has gentrified and become mainstream. The inevitable evolution of an independent brand.
Mainstream issues aside, the repore between Pitt and Hill is fluid and smooth. No bit of dialogue is extraneous and you do feel that these two characters care about one another, which  compliments the friendship portrayed in the film "50/50" which stars another Apatow alumni, Seth Rogen. 
"Moneyball" based on a book by Michael Lewis, contains enough information about baseball and statistics without going over your head. Better yet, you need not be a baseball fan to enjoy it, or for that matter understand statistics. It is simply an American story of two men against the odds.
Seasoned chameleon actor Philip Seymour Hoffman plays manager Art Howe in a very uncharacteristic mild way. He is so pudgy and milquetoast, it's eerie. He has all the zip of a Duane Hanson sculpture. Hoffman is so much the manager that there is no manager.  He feels like Art Howe.
"Moneyball" is especially fitting coming on the heels of the  sudden death of Apple wunderkind Steve Jobs. At one point in the film, Pitt's character urges the board members to "think differently", which is Apple's motto. I don't think this is coincidental. Both Jobs and Beane used computer technology and groundbreaking philosophy to overcome old expectations. Both were iconoclasts against Big Business. For Beane this meant The Bronx Bombers: The behemoth known as The New York Yankees. For Jobs, it was Big Blue, IBM, specifically Microsoft--- the business standard that cornered the market in the Late 1980s.
The square jawed savvy  Pitt and the pale awkward Hill, alone with a laptop and logarithms, do seem like versions of Jobs and Wozniak, simply doing what they know will work against the Status Quo.
One can only imagine  what Billy Beane and Peter Brand might have been able to do with an iPhone in the bullpen.     
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