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Moneyball (Blu-ray Review)

6 Jan, 2012 By: John Latchem

Street 1/10/12
Sony Pictures
Box Office $75.02 million
$30.99 DVD, $40.99 Blu-ray
Rated ‘PG-13’ for some strong language.
Stars Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright, Chris Pratt, Stephen Bishop.

The sport of baseball has undergone a bit of a revolution in the past decade, with a greater reliance on statistical analysis displacing more-traditional methods of player evaluations. Michael Lewis’ 2003 book Moneyball chronicled this change through the efforts of Oakland A’s GM Billy Beane to assemble a team using a budget that would be considered miniscule next to the payroll of major players such as the New York Yankees.

As a film, Moneyball seems like the movie Major League would have been if it were meant to be a serious film and not a comedy. This is especially the case if one considers the original ending of Major League and the owner’s admission of having no money to put a winning team together and having to find undervalued players rejected by everyone else for whatever quirks ail them.

That’s the situation in which Beane (played superbly by Brad Pitt with a hint of his Aldo Raine character from Inglourious Basterds) finds himself following the 2001 season, after the A’s lose in the first round of the playoffs and watch their three best players leave for free agency. The A’s front office is depicted with a level of cheapness along the lines of Charles Comiskey, whose stinginess inspired his White Sox to throw the 1919 World Series for some extra cash.

Poaching a young analyst (Jonah Hill) from the Cleveland Indians, Beane turns baseball conventions inside out and ends up really ticking off the old guard of the game who place more value on their own experience than anything a computer can tell them. This includes manager Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who resents Beane tying his hands by trading his best players while usurping his authority by trying to get the team to buy into the system.

The film never uses the term sabermetrics, but does throw out the name of its biggest advocate, statistician Bill James (the term is based on the name of the Society for American Baseball Research, or SABR). The core idea as applied embraces the idea of baseball as a business but sets aside the fun of the game to do it, although there is a certain whimsy seeing Pitt and Hill playing what amounts to fantasy baseball with a real team.

Eventually Beane’s model yields positive results through the 2002 season, which saw the team win 20-straight games to set an American League record. Real-life circumstance would force the film to focus on the 20-win achievement and not something more substantial, such as a World Series trophy. While the A’s would win the AL West that year with 103 wins (same as the Yankees, who paid five times as much per win), they would again lose in the first round of the playoffs, while the championship eventually went to the Anaheim Angels, a wild card team that finished four games behind the A’s.

Under the steady hand of director Bennett Miller, Moneyball isn’t a conventional baseball movie, but it’s a good one, and one of 2011’s best films. The script by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin offers a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes of America’s pastime, distilling a complicated topic into a compelling narrative by contrasting Beane’s aspirations for changing the game with the hype surrounding his own failed playing career.

The character played by Hill is a fictionalized composite of various people in the book but is based primarily on Paul DePodesta, the key Beane assistant who would later be GM of the L.A. Dodgers.

The Blu-ray includes an impressive package of deleted scenes and featurettes, including a profile of the real Beane and his methods. Also included is a full chronicle of the making of the film, including how most of the baseball players were cast by actors with playing experience, which lent authenticity to the game re-creations.

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