Do you remember the days when baseball players were judged by somewhat simple statistics? How hitting a bundle of home runs and batting in teammates was enough to land you in the All Star Game, or even put you in the Hall of Fame if you were able to compile gaudy numbers? Or even how pitchers could earn big paydays by being the winning pitcher consistently or putting up solid win-loss numbers? The days when the back of a baseball card told you a lot about a player's worth are long gone, as the game has evolved in the last decade. Newfandangled statistics are cropping up almost yearly. Fielding range, OBPS (on base plus slugging), or my personal least favorite, WAR (wins above replacement) have been adopted by baseball think tanks, both for the major league organizations and the media covering them.
The simplicity is long gone. At the same time, the emotion is gone, too. I used to enjoy reading articles comparing the stars of today to those of yesterday, imagining a Babe Ruth or a Ty Cobb in the modern era. Now, said stories are impossible to read, as the writers let these stupid analytical tools take the heart out of the column, and we're left with wishy-washy "arguments" and, dare I say, half-assed "facts" that have turned something fun into a chore to read. And it all started in the early 21st century, when a horrible ballplayer turned general manager for the Oakland Athletics had to change the way his small market franchise was playing.
Writer Michael Lewis wrote the book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, as he followed Billy Beane's 2002 attempts to replace three departed stars that his team could not afford to lose and still maintain competitiveness. This season changed the game forever, as Beane took the mantra espoused by Bill James (the founder of sabermetrics, the advanced baseball analytical toolset) to find value in players where other teams only saw risk. When the team was extremely successful during the season, other teams took notice, and suddenly players who hit for low averages but got on base regardless became gems instead of outcasts.
The Bennett Miller-directed film adaptation of this influential book has everything working against it. This is not your traditional baseball movie. We're not following a team destined to win it all. We're not even following a team that has won it all since the system in place was implemented. Rather, the career of Beane (Brad Pitt) is chronicled, from the tumultuous 2001-2002 offseason, to the growing pains of implementing a radical new approach, with accents of Beane's playing days thrown in as a reminder of how many "five tool" players don't pan out. As the GM battles fruitlessly with ownership to get the funds necessary to be competitive on the field, the team eventually clicks, and soon magic starts to happen. The end result, all sports fans know, and some of us can't forget the record breaking winning streak the team went on. 'Moneyball' looks past the manager (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) of the team, past its players (particularly Chris Pratt as Scott Hatteberg, Stephen Bishop as David Justice, and Casey Bond as Chad Bradford), and into the mind, heart, and soul of one of the first GM's to make news for reasons other than his hiring or firing, along with his assistant Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) who clued him in to this new baseball mindset.
Not everyone will enjoy 'Moneyball,' and I get that. This film has so much more in common with David Fincher's 'The Social Network' and its take on Facebook than, say, 'Field of Dreams'or '61*,' so naturally those looking for a "pure" sports movie need look elsewhere. This flick captures the book's essence, including the controversial aspects, such as the portrayal of manager Howe (which he wrote off as incorrect and biased), and manages to make a film about managing a sport, rather than playing it, as fascinating and dramatic as any other flick in the genre. The thing about 'Moneyball,' though, isn't just the way it shows a changing mentality, a burgeoning thought process, but also the way it represents the old guard, the traditional system reliant on seasoned scouts and teams bidding on players like they were mercenaries. The early scenes in the film with the old think tank say it all: there are two ways to approach a problem, one by filling a gap by throwing money at it at established stars and names, the other by thinking outside the box, untraditionally, abandoning the old way of thinking, as it doesn't quite work when you aren't given the money needed to accomplish it.
Brad Pitt may look nothing like Beane, but he does a damn good job portraying the man, while the film itself also does wonders in capturing the failed player. Over the years I've read a number of write ups about the controversial GM, and the one that stood out the most was the fact that he didn't really watch the team he crafted, and cared more for soccer than the game that made him famous. While this other passion isn't touched upon, the crafty, slightly dubious approach to handling players and other teams is realized quite nicely. The real surprise, though, is the fact that Hoffman, an established acting star and scene stealer if ever there were one, is outshone by the portly Hill, whose previous credits gave no indication he was capable of a buttoned down, serious role, and the kid nails it.
'Moneyball' has a score of tongue-in-cheek humorous moments, plenty of intrigue, and a very non-traditional structure in crafting a film about sports (rather than a sports film) that doesn't feature a single player who will reach the Hall of Fame. It doesn't even really mention the fact that the team sported the American League MVP or Cy Young winner, as they're seen but never heard or mentioned. It properly reflects the romanticism of the game, and addresses that as we see the ups and downs of a season and their toll on the man who crafted the experiment. If nothing else, 'Moneyball' will stand as a tribute to a man who changed the sport, for better or worse, and does so with one simple line in the film, one that I can't help but repeat:
"You did good, Billy. We're really proud of you."
The Disc: Vital Stats
Sony brings their surprise hit to Blu-ray on a BD50, Region A/B/C coded disc in two flavors: a standalone release, and a combo pack that includes a DVD disc and UltraViolet Digital Copy (housed under a basic slipcover). The pre-menu content on this disc is massively annoying, as we're treated to a number of trailers (with no top menu skip), a handful of Blu-ray promotions (including those as simple and ineffective as the logo popping up and making a swooshing noise), and a trailer for Adam Sandler's 'Jack and Jill,' among other things. Why ruin the good mood, Sony? Why make us even watch a second of that crap when we're paying to see a less traditional, much more heralded film? There are so few people interested in that film buying this one, you're just insulting us!
Presented in 1080p using the AVC MPEG-4 encode, 'Moneyball' has more issues with appearance than it does the film itself.
Sure, we can't judge the historical footage, as not all of it us up to date and glossy, and the way it is hyper-stylized makes it much more swallowable. The film proper boasts absolutely stunning picture depth, great contrast levels, and very bold, but natural colors. There's no black crush, not even a bit of aliasing, and no sign of the hefty grain being tampered with. Stray hairs constantly leap, making you think Pitt is one sasquatch-like hombre! Skin tones are always accurate, and with the number of super-close-up shots in this film, you see plenty of vivid detail. Whites are remarkably clean throughout, as well.
The disc's flaws lie in a few shots with noise, a number of scenes with no pop to speak of (not flat, per se, just uninteresting and somewhat dull), and some serious edge enhancement in a number of shots. It's not end of the world stuff, but it's hard to look at this disc and call it a flawless gem. Still, this one is quite solid.
The audio for 'Moneyball' is also fairly plain-jane. Presented in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, the film opens with great rear audio to put us in the game, and then seems to forget the rears even exist, as they rarely register all that much of anything. Dynamics are solid, as even muffled dialogue sounds as it should, and the warm spoken word never is hard to hear, nor does it sound improper for the scene. Ambience is hit and miss, as the film forgets its settings sometimes, while bass levels rarely register, as a few light thumps in the score are the only real workouts the big clunker gets. Go into this disc with low expectations, and you should be satisfied!
'Moneyball' has a menu tab for Previews for other Sony properties, all the pre-menu jibber jabber plus two more! There's also a DVD copy in the combo packs!
'Moneyball' may be the dark horse in the upcoming award season. It's not your ordinary baseball film, because it's not a baseball film at all. If you've ever wondered about the finances or behind the scenes going-ons in the sport, this may be an eye opening experience. If you're just looking for some roided up ass hitting dingers, you'll need to look elsewhere. This Blu-ray disc is solid, and with the standalone or combo pack options, there should be one version of this disc in any serious dramatic movie lover's collection. A great crossover movie, led by a superb performance or two makes this one highly recommended.