Despite geographical separation, Nathan and Tyler wanna talk about Moneyball. So away we go.
Nathan: I caught Moneyball with my friend Josh. We took it in at Asheville’s only theatre with stadium seating (sad face), The Regal Biltmore Grande 15. The theatre itself was nice; the screen was in focus, the audio was great, and the stadium seating was a real pleasure (even if we sat nearer to the back, which is not my preferred spot).
The real puzzling thing about this moviegoing experience was that about 10 seats down from me on my left was a couple of adults who thought to bring their four-year-old daughter to the 7:00 screening. Really? I’m sure your preschooler is way interested in sabermetrics and the crazy baseball GM who pioneered them. Or maybe your child is a die-hard A’s fan. Near the end of the movie, the kid understandably got bored and started to cry…you know, right during one of those pivotal scenes. I’m not a parent, and I’m sure that a babysitter can be expensive, but maybe you should just put your tyke to bed and sneak off to the 11:00 show. Nothing will happen to ’em, I guarantee. Or there’s this cool new thing called DVD!
Tyler: Ann Arbor’s Such-N-So Theater is a multiplex. It’s affordable, at least, and their “medium” popcorn comes in a tub that could legitimately–and in eco-friendly fashion!–entomb a stillborn child. I attended with the company and via the car-owning graces of my oldest buddy Mike, who loves baseball as much as myself. We were both pretty damn impressed, doing one of those dramatic speechless walks out of the theater. (Well, Mike’s a lot quieter than myself, so it was probably just me.)
The theater proper was your standard stadium-seater, and, as we saw on a Monday night, we were able to score those sweet seats toward the bottom of the loge tier where you can kick up your feet on a handlebar. There were some minor focus issues, but I attribute to the handful of kids working that night, so I can hardly blame ’em. (A subsequent visit to see 50/50 featured no such problems.)
Tyler: Nathan, what did you think of Moneyball? It blew me away. As all great sports movies, I thought it wasn’t about sports. I felt it addressed issues that require address in our society–specifically, America in the media age, and the generation gap that presumes we young’uns don’t know what we’re doing.
Nathan: Moneyball. You seem very excited about this movie. Given that you are a huge sports fan, this is understandable. But what specifically moved you about it?
T: I felt it spoke to different mentalities. Accepting and embracing tactics that may not coincide with traditional thought.
N: Yes, thematically that seems to be the core of the film. Institutional change. It’s hard to affect and it usually destroys the one who tries it.
T: It’s a great baseball movie. My favorite scene, viscerally, depicts what it takes to make an effective trade. I also thought Jonah Hill was fuckin’ fantastic. But I believe it wants to go beyond that. Hence the elaborate unfolding of the American flag. And the many scenes of Pitt–also fuckin’ brilliant–agonizing about whether he’s doing the right thing.
N: Yeah. that scene was amazing. And that’s actually what I enjoyed most about Moneyball. It’s an acting-out of aspects of sports that we never see. The attempted negotiations for more money from an owner, the trade, the clubhouse talks with a veteran players. We read about that stuff in the papers or in books, but sometimes it’s difficult to imagine because sports figures are larger-than-life in the media.
T: See, that’s what I think is the point. (Spoiler alert, for non-sports fans.) Pitt turns down the massive paycheck toward the end. He wants to make it work, in the original arena of his passion. He won’t give up. Thus far, he has not succeeded. But his devotion is the point. I mean, the flick is called MONEYball. And it has little to do with the book. The book is great, but it is not an emotional piece. What did you think of the acting? Hoffman’s portrayal of Art Howe has been a point of contention with more than one cat I know.
N: Beane’s devotion is an interesting piece. It would’ve been interesting to see the film level the playing field for those that don’t pay attention to baseball. It barely mentions the little collection of pitching aces that were on the A’s at that time, and the uneducated viewer would be led to think that David Justice and Hatteberg held the team up for 20 Ws. The acting was good all around. Some, including Howe himself, have not favored his screen portrayal, but I thought it was great. And, further, I thought it was a very sympathetic portrayal. Pitt actually impressed me more than the others. He set aside the showiness and charm that accompany most of his roles and aimed for something from the interior.
T: Yeah, ignoring the pitching was odd. But, that said, it would have derailed the drama of the film to lay all the momentum on the pitching. The point is the alternative mentality. Is it correct? Maybe, maybe not. But I think the point is that alternative thought should not be rejected. It should be embraced, or at least considered. What did you think of Pitt’s relationship with his daughter?
T: I agree, too. I thought the portrayal of Howe was affectionate. They make a serious point about the effect his one-year contract has on his mindset.
N: Two issues to address. First one, then the other.
N: In real life, the alternative mentality (sabermetrics) is neither correct or incorrect. It’s another way of looking problems and trying to solve them. No team works strictly on sabermetrics philosophy, right? You need some ace pitchers, you need some guys who can hit. You aren’t going to find a championship team in the bargain bin. The movie becomes about using multiple approaches to problem solving. The Beane/daughter stuff was actually the only area of the movie that actually irked me. Partly because it had nothing to do with reality, and also partly because it seemed like a bump-set-spike for audience emotional reaction. I even got a little choked up at the end, but then I sort of resented it later.
T: I damn near wept at the end–and I did think it was genius that the daughter “wrote” a half-successful pop song that actually exists–because, though I expected the final scene to address the relationship, I did not expect it to do so with such effectiveness. I mean, the cut to black, when it came? “You’re a loser, Dad, you’re such a loser, Dad, you’re such a loser, Dad. Just enjoy the show.” I think that’s fuckin’ brilliant.
N: It was too on the nose for me. But it’s not as if it wrecked the movie.
T: You got any main flaws? I did think it went on just a hair too long.
N: The one thing that really did surprise me was how funny Moneyball actually is. I didn’t expect laughter at all, but it was there in many places. Hill was especially charming as the wallflower Yale, stats dude.
T: YES! I laughed a lot. The people in the theater probably thought I was nuts.
N: No major problems. I haven’t read the book, but my knowledge of what it is tells me that it would be nearly impossible to translate into a movie, so I knew it couldn’t be a dry film at all.
T: Sorkin’s like a leading man. He needs to be controlled–thank you, Zaillian and Miller–but when he’s on, he’s on. Well, Soderbergh’s version was gonna have an animated Bill James as a Greek chorus. I think we can all be thankful that didin’t happen.
N: Maybe he could do a remake in 20 years. Soderbergh’s ideas would have alienated 99% of all ticket buyers, but it would have been fascinating to see!
T: Moneyball remains my odds-on favorite for Best Picture Oscar-winner. For one reason or another–I believe it speaks to the current state of America. Agreed. Soderbergh is a nut, but talented. Aside from the trade sequence, you got a favorite scene?
N: I have no prediction for the Oscars. I thought Social Network would win last year and then everybody got a hard-on for King’s Speech (which was good, but…)
T: Agreed. Shit, I keep forgetting King’s Speech actually won. Not okay.
N: My favorite scene was early on, when Beane is asking his owner for just a little more money…like, $10 million. He doesn’t want to be the Yankees, but he wants a bone thrown to him. It’s a conversation I really never think about. Don’t know much about the A’s owner, but one would expect that a person in ownership of a baseball team would also have some extra cash to give to a good player. Good players, after all, increase revenue. Win-win.
T: I think a lot of sports-team owners are just trying to break even. They don’t care about winning. They’re just making an investment. Great scene.
N: You see Beane realizing then and there that he is going to have to fight an uphill battle for the rest of the movie. All those middle management jobs, including Howe’s, are so thankless and impossible.
T: God, I really thought Pitt was fantastic. So internal. The cuts to his acts of anger pretty much always had him out of the shot.
N: Pitt conveyed a sense of tiredness and exhasperation so well, but he could turn on a dime and be firm. I loved the exchange between him and his head (was it the head?) scout.
T: His gestures were brilliant. The flapping “talk-talk-talk” hand? So good. The dude has truly grown into himself as a leading man.
N: Age has served him well.
T: I do think the portrayal of the old-school scouts may have been a little heavy-handed. But, then, it’s a movie. I think we’re almost done here. Any further thoughts?
N: The focus, as you have already pointed out, was about alternative thinking. By default they had to come down hard on the old ways.
T: I agree. I believe that Moneyball, the film, speaks to a necessary truth: the old ways aren’t absolute truth. Sadly, I also believe those that enforce the old ways will never accept that.
N: The movie not-so-subtly suggests that part of Beane’s motivation is a sort of retribution against the intuition-based scout system that set up up to fail. He missed out on an Ivy League education because they thought he was the whole package. Sabermetrics is about getting half-packages and putting them together to make a whole team. What did you think of that aspect?
T: I think the movie implies that he wasn’t certain about that retribution. And was bitter because it did not work out. That’s what motivates him. A hatred of losing, but also a desire to avenge his mismanaged youth. His relationship with the players, especially Scott Hatteberg (Chris Pratt!) is what I think shows that the most. He knows how they feel.
N: Has Beane spoken at all about the movie? Wonder if he’s still out for retribution. His A’s haven’t looked too good lately.
T: I have not seen any comments from Beane. The remarks from Paul DePodesta–I think I e-mailed you ’em–the basis for Jonah Hill’s character, I found fascinating. And yeah. The A’s suck of late. That’s the point, though, I think. There is no absolute strategy. But alternatives need to be considered. No matter how grossly they challenge The Old Guard.
N: DePodesta GMed the Dodgers for a couple years, right? Am I remembering that correctly? When you use a stats-only approach, it doesn’t quite work. When you use a money-only approach it doesn’t always work either (see 2011 Red Sox). Well…they threw money at sabermetrics, I guess.
T: He did. And now Francona’s the newest scapegoat. Despite his “guiding” the Sox to two championships. There is no absolute solution. I think Moneyball, the movie, points that out. True greatness may well be a combination of strategy and, for lack of a better word, destiny.
Nathan: Above all, it was a real pleasure to see a sports movie not totally overcome by cliches. Moneyball is an intelligent and entertaining picture that can be enjoyed by anyone regardless of baseball-knowledge level, because, like the greatest of movies, it is universal at its core.
Tyler: Moneyball, to my mind, is one of the best movies of the year.