Wednesday, February 1, 2012


Now the immediate reaction of regulars to the sight of my reviewing Moneyball will be a perplexed, "Huh?" I'm not a huge fan of sports. While I played my fair share of soccer and basketball, I never really had the patience or interest to watch it professionally. Part of it is probably because I'm tied up over the idea of professional sports being the "bread and circuses" of our time; this is a reference to the Ancient Roman gladiatorial colosseum and gladiator pits which were used as vehicles of entertainment to keep the economic juices flowing and the population occupied from more meaningful pursuits.

However, I have to concede that, at the end of the day, much as I've no taste for it, the jaw-dropping popularity of professional modern sports is as normal as our love of movies and games. We enjoy being entertained, be it through the drama and dynamic of players and their coaches or the confrontation of skills on the field. We can get so obsessed with sports games that we memorize statistics of players and create simulations of the 'real' games in the form of things like video games and "fantasy football". Though I'll personally perhaps never care for it, sports are an inescapable facet of society and I grudgingly concede that they can provide moments of spirited competition, excitement, and heartwarming on the level of all the other ways we entertain ourselves as a culture.

Now that I've needlessly presented justification for my watching a baseball movie, I'm going to go ahead and write a review now.

Separating from the Herd

On the surface of it, Moneyball is like every other sports movie you've ever seen. They are all so predictable; the team starts out sucking and then, through coaching or team spirit or whatever, they slowly refashion themselves into a championship level monstrosity. If they win, then we all feel our hearts glow as they all triumphantly hop about victoriously like crack-addicted penguins. If they lose, then we watch and, "Awww..." as they pat each other on the back and say how the experience still changed their lives for the better. And blah blah blah... It is a very narrow formula that never changes, but it still can manage to tug the heartstrings and make you feel like a winner, so if ain't broke, don't fix it, right?

What makes Moneyball unique is that is steps away from this formula, however slightly. Instead of following the team players or the coach, we find ourselves watching Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill in the position of management. They are the ones to choose the players, the coaches, and the overall strategy for the team. In another deviation, we find that the big way they turn around the team's terrible losing streak is not by finding some prodigy or special coaching staff, but by looking into the statistics and trends behind baseball itself. For the first time, the management decides to try and make decisions for the team based on an understanding that is completely separate from and abhorrent to the entire rest of the major baseball league.

What follows in the film is perhaps best served by analogy.

While watching this with company, my friend hit upon the idea of Brad Pitt's role being akin to that of Martin Luther during the Protestant Reformation. Centuries ago, when presented with a religious system devoted to the one creed of Catholicism, it hit upon Luther that there might be another way of assessing his faith in Christianity. This very thought resulted in an enormous schism between those who embraced this new way of thinking versus those who thought that the old ways were best. In his time, Luther faced an enormous amount of negative judgment and, like Brad Pitt's general manager, had to confront the possibility of ruining his life over his revolutionary thought.

The way the movie ends is also evocative of the metaphor of the glass ceiling, most commonly applied to women's rights. By the end of the movie, while personally unsuccessful in overturning the philosophy of "good baseball", Brad Pitt's run with his team still did manage to catch people's notice. They don't win the World Series, but they get far enough to definitely get others to perk up and pay attention. By doing so, he cracks the glass ceiling, paving the way for others to follow his lead and change the way the sport is regarded.


Thus it is that, on a theoretical basis, Moneyball turned out to be a quite exciting movie despite the fact that I really don't have any passion or interest in baseball. On top of the conceptual changes taking place throughout the movie, the acting is also fantastic and the characters fairly interesting and amusing, if occasionally one-dimensional. Brad Pitt particularly stands out as the guy you really want to root for who still has flaws of his own, such as his personal life and how he handles anger. Oscar-worthy? Not quite, but still memorable.

But would I recommend this to anyone? If you really like sports, then this movie will likely be the pinnacle of them all in brilliance and execution. If not, then this is merely an enjoyable film that you don't really need to rush out and see.

(And no, I have no idea why the spaces in this post are enormous. Tinkering with them has presented zero satisfactory results)

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