Thursday, December 08, 2011
The day before Thanksgiving, the Other Half and I finally got around to seeing the critically acclaimed (95% on rottentomatoes.com) Moneyball. It is based on the best-selling book of the same name by Michael Lewis, which tells the story of how the Oakland Athletics baseball team applied the mathematical principles of Bill James "Sabermetrics" to the apparently non-mathematical arena of professional baseball.
Moneyball as a movie is basically your typical sports movie, but with a twist. There's no doubt that it is the best movie about baseball since the classic Bull Durham starring a then-cute Kevin Costner and not-yet-married (or divorced) Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins. Interestingly, it is also a movie which features the classic sporting movie cliché of the redemption of the losing under dog. This time, however, the underdog is the hapless geek in the form of Jonah Hill, who plays Peter Brand, a recent Economics graduate from Yale who is also a baseball statistics geek and devotee of Sabermetrics. The movie is carried by Brad Pitt, who plays Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland Athletics, who at the beginning of the movie has just lost his marquee players to the deep pockets of the hated New York Yankees after losing the decisive 5th game in a playoff series.
The movie really revolves around the relationship between Beane and Brand as Beane quickly adopts Sabermetrics and he and Brand go about trying to convince the old fogeys in the Oakland management, exemplified by Philip Seymour Hoffman's Art Howe, that they can't compete with the teams which have budgets 50-100% greater than theirs. The old fogeys are not happy and initial results are not promising.
Of course, this being a traditional sports movie you know the Oakland A's are going to start winning eventually, and that does happen. For the casual sports fan who does not know the basic details of what actually happens the story unfolds in a compelling fashion (proving again that truth can be more interesting than fiction).
The movie is generally engaging but as a mathematician I was somewhat disappointed with the handwaving way in which the director chooses to communicate the computational implementation of Sabermetrics (lots of glowing equations floating in mid-air and quick-cut shots of spreadsheets). This is a minor quibble and I understand that this was a choice made to make the movie as enjoyable to the widest spectrum of movie-goers. The decision is generally successful since I can tell lots of people would find the movie a lot of fun.
Director: Bennett Miller.
Running Time: 2 hours, 13 minutes.
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some strong language.
Release Date: September 23, 2011.
Viewing Date: November 23, 2011.
Overall Grade: (3.5/4.0).