Thanks to my good friend Bryan via The Facebook (I liked the old name), I was alerted to the existence of a public FREE screening of Moneyball yesterday evening.
Like many of you out there in Internetland, I had a small part in the making of the movie. Ok, who am I fooling! I was Brad Freakin' Pitt''s Body Double for Pete's sake! And as such, when I found that the only tickets available were for a screening in Sacramento, I braved the 80 at commute time and settled into my seat right at the start of the movie, after being relieved of my cell phone and patted down upon entering the theater.
SPOILER ALERT! THE A'S DON'T MAKE THE WORLD SERIES AND THEY BLOW AN 11-0 LEAD BUT HATTEBERG HITS A HOME RUN TO WIN THE 20TH GAME.
I don't want to spoil the movie for anyone.
In all seriousness, I was a jumble of emotions. Being the first time I have ever been in anything on the big screen, all of the build-up to the movie we have had here, and of course the massive amount of pride knowing our team, our little small market A's, were going to be featured in a big budget Hollywood film, I was a bit overwhelmed with emotion. I would like to preface this review by saying yeah, I am a bit biased.
First of all, let me say this: Often, when talking to people who don't like baseball, the indictment is usually one of pace: they think it's boring and too slow. Those of us who have grown up with a love of the game, who have played at some level, understand the subtleties and nuances. We have a romantic attachment to the game. There is a palpable sentimentality that links us to our childhood, like we are still holding our father's giant hand. Baseball is our life.
Moneyball the movie is like the game of baseball: if you don't like baseball because the slowness of the game, the subtitles, you may find Moneyball out of your league. Moneyball is a romance movie.
And if you love baseball, if you like baseball, my God you are going to love this movie!
I have read things about Brad Pitt being ready for an Oscar and perhaps this would be his vehicle this year to reach that vaunted plateau. I don't think so. While turning in a solid, touching and accurate portrayal of Billy Beane the father and Billy Beane the GM, I didn't have the same overwhelming feeling like I did at say The King's Speech upon watching Colin Firth's performance. But don't get me wrong, Brad was really good. Very good.
For all of you out there who thought this would be a movie about the A's, about the book Moneyball, are mistaken. This is a movie about Billy. About a man who had the weight of the world on his shoulders. A man who had tasted failure, both in his professional baseball career and marriage, and somehow found a way to stay above the flow. The movie focuses on Billy's relationships with Billy the failed ballplayer, Billy the part time father, Billy the gambler, Billy the negotiator, and Billy the GM. Moneyball the book is a common thread that folds in Paul DePodesta (Peter Brand) played by Jonah Hill, quite admirably I might add. Hill's performance reminds me a lot of Adam Sandler in the movie Punch Drunk Love, where we get our first dramatic role for someone we are used to seeing cut it up on the big screen. Hill was perfect. Kudos to the casting people on the film and to Bennett Miller for pulling this performance out of him.
There are plenty of sub-plots throughout the movie which weave in and out of Billy's story that just adds to the heap of weight you can feel with the guy. Robin Wright minus the Penn in a brief appearance as the former Mrs. Beane. We see Scott Hatteberg at home as Billy and DePodesta show up unannounced at his door and pluck him from sure baseball oblivion, and watch him become a hero in the unfolding drama. There are rebel scouts, rouge reporters, angry fans, a tight fisted Steve Schott, a precocious teen Beane and a drama queen in the form of Art Howe, played by the God of character actors, Philip Seymour Hoffman. My only wish is that we saw more Hoffman, but his turn as Art Howe was funny though minor.
The movie is an intimate look at Billy the man as the Moneyball story unfolds and he deals with the pressure of doing things differently in a game that does not do things differently. At several different moments in the film you may find yourself choked up, depending on the level of emotional attachment you have with this team. Most certainly one of those moments was hearing the distinctive tones of Bill King. I love you Bennett Miller for choosing to include Bill in the movie. While moviegoers around the world will just hear an announcer, many of us will relive the moments onscreen with the voice of our past, like an echo of a dream.
Rotten Tomatoes is my favorite review site for movies, and I expect to see Moneyball in the 80% range. It will have it's detractors. I suspect there will be those who don't like the pace of the film, and those who feel it was much to do about nothing. Again, if you are not a baseball fan, much of the emotion and the scope of what actually happened may be lost on you. However, for those who are not baseball fans, one of the more tender and touching threads woven into the movie is Billy's relationship with his daughter. The movie ends on her notes, fittingly, for as most of us here know she played a big role in why Billy is still here, still in Oakland, still not selling jeans.
Go see the movie. It is good old fashion story telling, an element lacking in movies these days.
And if you squint your eyes, I am onscreen for the about as much time as it takes light to travel three inches.