Keepin’ it Reel: Moneyball

Keepin’ It Reel is a weekly to biweekly movie column that aims to do reviews the Brown way: by waxing philosophical and perhaps using the word “hegemony.” If there’s an upcoming movie that you, gentle reader, would like reviewed, don’t only mildly hesitate to place your requests below.

Moneyball tells the story of Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), manager of the Oakland A’s (whose mascot either is the letter “A” or a really tiny elephant) and controversial pioneer in applying statistical reductionism (“sabermetrics“) to America’s Favorite Pastime. Along the way, Billy befriends a Yale econ grad (Jonah Hill), has a falling out with his team manager (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), and even learns a little about being a father. If that sounds about as thrilling as, say, a “Facebook movie”, then you’re actually onto something: this little ditty was written by West Wing mastermind and recent guest of Brown Aaron Sorkin. But that doesn’t mean it’s anywhere near as good.

In terms of direction, and so overall, this is a straight-up mediocre movie. Perhaps because it doesn’t know what it wants to be, as if the director said “I want to make a film about baseball!” and was handed Sorkin’s script about organizational infighting, family, and redemption instead. The result is a movie that feels like it’s equivocating throughout, like the film-making itself is always self-consciously crowding the plate, and you just want it to back out of the frame. Anything that’s written is golden; much of what’s shot falls into the baseball cliches of sublime stadium shots, filming the pitcher against an all black background as if he’s the only one who exists, the requisite interspersion of slightly grainy real-life TV feeds of games, etc. What annoyed me most were the full minutes of that zooming-in-on-data-laden-computer-screens-until-blurry thing that it seems all movies with even the slightest thing to do with computers have to copy. The film is packed with goofy filler like that.

But I don’t want to to tear it down too much, because this movie yet again shows that Aaron Sorkin can put his finger exactly on the secret currents defining America at any moment. I gushed over The Social Network last year, because he limited a story about an entire social network to a single social circle, and showed us what’s at the heart of both in the process. In Moneyball, Sorkin puts the trend of the last decade–Nate Silver-style statistical reductionism–to the test. True to real life, it’s hard to tell if Brad Pitt is even the hero of the movie. Maybe the even bigger “hero” is Jonah Hill’s Yale-graduated statistics whiz. Both are innovating the roster of the team to fit the Oakland A’s small budget, but that requires treating the players as literal numbers to be sold, traded, multiplied and divided at will. Are we supposed to be rooting for this guy when he wins, or when he loses? And because Sorkin’s knack for storytelling lends itself to multiple interpretations, I couldn’t stop thinking about the education movement in this country–likewise, students are increasingly tested, traded, and sold.

Now, if you’ll kindly indulge me in a little punnery… I’d say Moneyball bunts it. It never really rounds second base. It didn’t throw the viewer any curve-balls, but at student-discount ticket price, it’s still a real steal! But it’s no home run; certainly didn’t hit it outta the park. It didn’t go for the 2 point conversion. All in all, I’d say walk, don’t run to see Moneyball.

Leave a Reply