“Moneyball,” reviewed

“Moneyball,” reviewed (photo)

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This review contains spoilers for historical events. If you don’t know how “Moneyball” ends already and don’t want to know, do not read further.

People who know baseball will have a very different experience watching “Moneyball” than the people who don’t. The film, an adaptation of a revolutionary non-fiction book by Michael Lewis, recreates the events of the Oakland Athletics’ 2002 season. Within the film, the A’s accomplishments in ’02, engineered by their iconoclastic general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), are treated as a near-mythic triumph of baseball’s David over its collective Goliaths. Outside the film, as baseball fans know, the real story is a little bit different.

Consider this scene early in the film. Beane is in Cleveland during the off-season looking to acquire players. The A’s had a great year in 2001, but they lost three of their biggest stars — Jason Giambi, Jason Isringhausen, and Johnny Damon — because they couldn’t afford to pay their free agent contracts. Beane is scrambling. In Cleveland, Beane meets Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a young assistant to Cleveland’s general manager with new ideas about evaluating talent based on statistics rather than instinct. He tells Beane he should be glad the Athletics lost Damon, explaining how he’s not worth the salary the Red Sox are going to pay him. They can find better deals on talent elsewhere, Brand promises.

The matter is dropped, and Brand joins the staff of the Athletics. His beliefs are implicitly validated. If you didn’t know baseball, you would have to assume he was right about Johnny Damon. But since leaving the Athletics, Damon’s won two World Series. The A’s have won zero. In Game 4 of the 2009 Fall Classic, Damon got on base with two outs in the top of the ninth, stole two bases on a single pitch, and ignited a game-winning rally. Was he really that overvalued?

“Moneyball,” directed by Bennett Miller, is a fun movie. That fact alone in and of itself is something of an achievement, since Lewis’ book was a fascinating but dry tome about the origins and history of statistical analysis in sports. The film ditches most of the history for a straight and effective underdog story. It makes sense: Beane, bucking 100 years of tradition and struggling with a microscopic budget, fielded a team that was in Brand’s words from the “island of misfit toys,” also-rans, has-beens, and never-wases undervalued by the rest of baseball and, thus, affordable. Pitt is in full movie star mode guiding us on this journey; he shines brightly and, given that the film is the story of a baseball team that succeeds without the benefit of star players, somewhat ironically. Hill is quietly hilarious as Brand, deliciously uncomfortable as the lone intellectual in the locker room. The film’s screenplay was co-written by Aaron Sorkin, and like Sorkin’s Oscar-winning work on “The Social Network,” it is about a bunch of nerds beating a bunch of jocks at their own game.

As a baseball lover and an admirer of Lewis’ book, I always knew where the story was going. I kept hoping for something about the film to surprise me. Very little did. Beane himself is a charismatic figure — how could he not be when he’s played by Brad PItt — but he’s little more than his drive to win. He has no friends and almost no social life. He shares one scene with an ex-wife (Robin Wright) and a few with an adorably shy daughter (Kerris Dorsey). Otherwise, he’s kind of a cagey dude. Beane considers himself a gambler; at one point, he compares himself to a card counter flipping the odds at a casino. Maybe it’s no surprise then that he never really lets the film behind his poker face.

The focus instead is really on the team and the statistical revolution in baseball that they inspired. It’s well-created but, at least for me, predictable. I haven’t even mentioned Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Athletics manager Art Howe, primarily because for maybe the first time in his career, Hoffman gives a performance that isn’t worth mentioning. Beane and Brand’s system doesn’t put a lot of value on managers, and neither does the movie.

The only moments that really impressed me about “Moneyball” came near the end. Things build, as they must, to a big game. Things end, as they must, in triumph. But then Beane and Brand share a moment that puts things in much needed perspective: Beane reminds his partner that their dramatic victory ultimately means nothing. They haven’t won the World Series yet, and they won’t either. That’s when the movie finally acknowledges the disconnect between history and the film’s rose-colored reenactment. A long epilogue follows, throwing more and more cold water on the Athletics’ parade. All the romance and magic of baseball (and baseball movies) collides head on with the harsh realities of Beane’s moneyball approach, and a slight film gains some much needed depth.

“Moneyball” opens this Friday. If you see it, let us know what you think. Leave us a comment below or write to us on Facebook and Twitter.

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Millennial Wisdom

Charles Speaks For Us All

Get to know Charles, the social media whiz of Brockmire.

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He may be an unlikely radio producer Brockmire, but Charles is #1 when it comes to delivering quips that tie a nice little bow on the absurdity of any given situation.

Charles also perfectly captures the jaded outlook of Millennials. Or at least Millennials as mythologized by marketers and news idiots. You know who you are.

Played superbly by Tyrel Jackson Williams, Charles’s quippy nuggets target just about any subject matter, from entry-level jobs in social media (“I plan on getting some experience here, then moving to New York to finally start my life.”) to the ramifications of fictional celebrity hookups (“Drake and Taylor Swift are dating! Albums y’all!”). But where he really nails the whole Millennial POV thing is when he comments on America’s second favorite past-time after type II diabetes: baseball.

Here are a few pearls.

On Baseball’s Lasting Cultural Relevance

“Baseball’s one of those old-timey things you don’t need anymore. Like cursive. Or email.”

On The Dramatic Value Of Double-Headers

“The only thing dumber than playing two boring-ass baseball games in one day is putting a two-hour delay between the boring-ass games.”

On Sartorial Tradition

“Is dressing badly just a thing for baseball, because that would explain his jacket.”

On Baseball, In A Nutshell

“Baseball is a f-cked up sport, and I want you to know it.”

Learn more about Charles in the behind-the-scenes video below.

And if you were born before the late ’80s and want to know what the kids think about Baseball, watch Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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Crown Jules

Amanda Peet FTW on Brockmire

Amanda Peet brings it on Brockmire Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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GIFS via Giphy

On Brockmire, Jules is the unexpected yin to Jim Brockmire’s yang. Which is saying a lot, because Brockmire’s yang is way out there. Played by Amanda Peet, Jules is hard-drinking, truth-spewing, baseball-loving…everything Brockmire is, and perhaps what he never expected to encounter in another human.

“We’re the same level of functional alcoholic.”

But Jules takes that commonality and transforms it into something special: a new beginning. A new beginning for failing minor league baseball team “The Frackers”, who suddenly about-face into a winning streak; and a new beginning for Brockmire, whose life gets a jumpstart when Jules lures him back to baseball. As for herself, her unexpected connection with Brockmire gives her own life a surprising and much needed goose.

“You’re a Goddamn Disaster and you’re starting To look good to me.”

This palpable dynamic adds depth and complexity to the narrative and pushes the series far beyond expected comedy. See for yourself in this behind-the-scenes video (and brace yourself for a unforgettable description of Brockmire’s genitals)…

Want more about Amanda Peet? She’s all over the place, and has even penned a recent self-reflective piece in the New York Times.

And of course you can watch the Jim-Jules relationship hysterically unfold in new episodes of Brockmire, every Wednesday at 10PM on IFC.

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Draught Pick

Sam Adams “Keeps It Brockmire”

All New Brockmire airs Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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From baseball to beer, Jim Brockmire calls ’em like he sees ’em.


It’s no wonder at all, then, that Sam Adams would reach out to Brockmire to be their shockingly-honest (and inevitably short-term) new spokesperson. Unscripted and unrestrained, he’ll talk straight about Sam—and we’ll take his word. Check out this new testimonial for proof:

See more Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC, presented by Samuel Adams. Good f***** beer.

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