By all accounts, I should not like Moneyball. More than that, in fact. I should outright hate it. It combines two things that I find fundamentally uninteresting: Math and baseball. One I find to be tedious, boring, and utterly useless at the end of the day. The other is math, and that speaks for itself, I think. How could these two elements possibly combine into anything remotely enjoyable, or even interesting? As it turns out, they do. And Moneyball is one of my favorites among the nominees.
This film is like nothing I’ve seen before in its approach. It is edited at times like, well, like a sports documentary. We see protagonist Billy Beane’s history through a series of flashbacks that play like archival footage. The film is quasi-narrated by a series of radio personalities who further enhance the story by explaining what the rest of America thinks of Beane’s crazy ideas. Sometimes, director Bennett Miller just uses straight-up narration from characters, never cutting back to whoever is saying it within a scene. It’s a very interesting concept, but kind of difficult to describe. If you’ve seen the movie, you know what I mean. The original director was Steven Soderbergh, and he wanted to have talking head interviews with real baseball legends scattered throughout, with some of the players playing themselves. Miller took the essence of that concept and toned it down into something a bit more reasonable, and something that is great fun to watch on screen.
It helps add to the sense of realism that hangs over the movie, which I appreciated a great deal. When I act, I try to keep things as real as possible. “What would this character actually do? How would he move?” I always like to see actors perform subtly in films, and Moneyball delivers that in spades. Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill give great performances, of course, their Oscar nominations are well-deserved. But it’s the bit-players who really shine in this film. I’m thinking particularly of scenes involving scouts for the Oakland Athletics who meet to discuss possible new players. Apparently, most of these guys are actual baseball scouts, but you could’ve fooled me. It is so incredibly rare in a film to see actors stumble over words or sentences, and I always love it when it happens, because it gives that extra sense of reality to the movie. That happens all the time in this film, and whether intentional or not, it works great.
The story is the part of the film that I was most worried about, but it’s actually both intriguing and entertaining, despite my initial reservations. I’ll admit to getting a little lost at one or two points, purely because I don’t have a particularly in-depth understanding of how baseball works, but the characters’ emotions give enough context that it makes sense. The situations are real to the characters, so they’re real to the audience. That’s the essence of drama. In fact, the characters are what makes this film work as well as it does. You really empathize with Beane, or if you don’t, you at least understand what drives him and why he makes the decisions that he does. The film presents this information really well.
Moneyball is a better movie than it ever had to be. It’s sad that I’m surprised at the fact that this movie actually tried. They could have made a generic biopic and thrown it in theaters, but everyone working on this project put their hearts into it. The acting is solid, the cinematography is nice, the writing is clever and the storytelling is fresh. It’s more than just “I thought this would be worse”. I actively anticipated this being worse. So congratulations, Moneyball. You surpassed my expectations by miles.