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Oakland A's GM Billy Beane is handicapped with the lowest salary constraint in baseball. If he ever wants to win the World Series, Billy must find a competitive advantage. Billy is about to turn baseball on its ear when he uses statistical data to analyze and place value on the players he picks for the team.Written by
Douglas Young (the-movie-guy)
Director Bennett Miller was so impressed by Kerris Dorsey when she sang "The Show" by Lenka during her audition that he not only cast her as the protagonist's daughter but let her sing the 2008 song twice in the movie which was set in 2002, sacrificing its historical authenticity. See more »
Oakland pitcher Jim Mecir's name is misspelled "Mercir" in the closing credits. See more »
As an Australian, the thought of seeing a movie like this a few years ago would have been inconceivable...watching a movie about baseball would be on my "things not to do" list...but watching a movie about statistics and baseball? Even more inconceivable! What changed? In the wake of Sri Lanka beating Australia (I think) in the one day cricket World Cup final many years ago (a form of the game that cricket 'purists' would no doubt deride as 'baseball' and not the 'real form' of the game...heaven knows what they now make of of the Twenty20 form of the game!), I did happen upon an article which argued that Sri Lanka had revolutionised this shortened form of the game with their batting tactics. That story intrigued me...I doubt if Sri Lanka's batting strategy was created from statistics or maths, but it was persuasively argued in the article that it had mathematical or statistical logic to it (no doubt with a big helping of common sense too).
Furthermore, I had dabbled with free, customisable N.B.A. fantasy basketball leagues, where I had created two leagues with opposing philosophies...in one league, unsporting conduct was astronomically punished, whilst in the other league it was nicely rewarded. This created drafting conundrums...someone like Kobe Bryant could be a star in the fair play league...but would be a star in the foul play league. He was definitely a gamble in the fair play league though...in one year he could crush the coach's hopes, and in another year he would be a surprising star. I did get the distinct impression that coaches' who did well did so with the help of spreadsheets...to crunch the statistics...which is what this movie is all about. Before I start the review proper, I'll just mention that I may have been roped into joining someone's fantasy baseball league as a quid pro quo for them joining my league...just found the whole language of baseball gobbledygook...and never really hung around that sport for long. It's a good thing that this movie was not geared to those fans who love the gobbledygook (be it something called ERAs or whatever it's called).
Based on a true story, this movie outlines the revolutionary approach to selecting a baseball team for the major league in the wake of having your star players bought for large sums of money by cashed up teams. That's a major theme of the movie...the underdog against an unfair system. The approach taken contrasts that taken in Australia for the game of Australian rules football (AFL), where a form of 'socialism' was instituted over a decade ago, I think, with 'equalised' drafting, priority picks and salary caps. This 'socialism' has seen a diversity of teams win the sport's major trophy. Perhaps the main character in this movie, Billy Beane, might have been content with such a system.
Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane, and it is striking how much Brad seems to be growing into Robert Redford's face as he ages. Billy is the general manager of an underfunded (by cashed up teams' standards) baseball team, the Oakland Athletics. As in many sports where distorted markets rule (e.g. European soccer, where American multi-billionaires borrow huge sums of money and buy famous teams and load them up with debt...which is fine...until the bubble burst and the teams might face bankruptcy...or, where Russian oil billionaires buy teams and eat into their own cash reserves, paying insane salaries for stars. In both cases, there really is no business model, apart from paying crazy money which you either do or do not have for purpose of winning trophies), Oakland has developed some players into stars...only to see them picked off by cashed up teams.
Pitt plays Beane in the charismatic/brash way that Orson Welles played the youthful and exuberant 'Citizen' Kane, and he does a nice line in sizing people up and yet biting his tongue or taking sly amusement from their ways. This is interesting due to the history of Beane...he was seen as a potential star of the game and he does carry around some of that baggage with him at times. His experience illustrates the art vs science approach to baseball...he was drafted due to the former and he has to butt heads with his recruitment department in his new role as the team's general manager in order to bring a more scientific approach to recruiting.
Peter Brand plays Jonah Hill, a smart draft by Beane, who recognises in this geek a man capable of revolutionising the thinking of his recruitment department. Peter/Jonah is the most unathletic man you could imagine...short of someone who would require a crane to take them out of their bedroom by a hole in the roof in order to be taken to a hospital. He's like me playing fantasy N.B.A...or that man in the Matrix who sees everything in terms of binary digits...even that beautiful woman in a red dress.
For people who enjoy watching the game of baseball on the big screen, the last half hour has some nice moments for them. What makes this film more interesting for a general audience though is the intriguing insight into the backroom discussions of an elite sporting team. How players are valued and reasons why they may not be valued more highly are discussed.
In some ways this story is like those horse racing stories where someone buys a horse for under a $1,000 which was destined for the knacker's yard, but it goes on to win a fortune. You do get the equivalent of horses bound for the knacker's yard in this movie, as far as the baseball players who are recruited by Beane.
There was a scene I liked in this movie, where reporters discussed who was responsible for the team's turnaround...it was all attributed to the coach...which was in contrast to the tale that the movie tells.
A well told story which did make me laugh on occasion.
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