The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Monday, March 26, 2012


I think you either get baseball or you don't. It's that simple. Somethings you just can't explain the beauty of a sport to someone who either 1. Doesn't get it or 2. Doesn't want to get it. It is a sport that has changed with the times over the last 150-plus years so when someone comes along and drastically tries to change it? The "accepted way" of succeeding is going to resent the newcomer, the new way of doing it. That's what Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane tried to do as we see in Michael Lewis' book and 2011's Moneyball.

A former first round bust, Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) is at a turning point in his career in 2002 as the general manager of the Oakland Athletics. In a small market with a small market budget, Beane is trying to figure out how to field a competitive team in a market where rival teams are spending three and four times as much money as he is. While trying to pull off a trade, Billy meets Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a 25-year old Yale grad who has developed a way to analyze baseball in a more statistics-oriented fashion, working for the Cleveland Indians. He "trades" for Peter and goes about rebuilding a team and a franchise as it loses three key players. The whole baseball world says Billy is wrong, and that he will fail on an epic scale. Can he pull it off and show that his strategy can work too?

Like I tried to say earlier, there is a beauty of baseball that translates well to film. Watch a baseball game, and you will never see the exact same thing. Getting 27 outs will provide countless opportunities to see something that you've never seen before and may never see again. The ride along the way is the fun. Say what you will about Moneyball, but it is above all else a baseball movie. You can poke holes in the story -- I will later -- or question the bigger picture and claims it makes, but it manages to personalize a story that is based in numbers and statistical analysis. The actual game action is kept at a minimum (the exception is an American League record the A's take down), and director Bennett Miller does a fine job condensing a year of action into a 133-minute long movie.

This was a film that was in the works for years, always seemingly hitting roadblock after roadblock. The only reason it kept chugging along was producer and star Brad Pitt who always kept things moving. He earned a Best Actor nomination, and while he didn't win, I think he very much deserved the nomination at least. I'm a Pitt fan -- don't really get all the hate he gets as an actor -- but I don't think he gets the credit he deserves at times. Playing a person that most sports fans will know, he humanizes him instead of playing a cliched stereotype of the man. Quick flashbacks show how he got into baseball, failed as a player, became a scout and eventually a GM. This is a man who hates losing more than he loves winning. He is blinded by his own ambition, not seeing what he's accomplished. We see him interact with his 12-year old daughter (Kerris Dorsey) and his ex-wife (Robin Wright), but this is only way to develop the individual, not the name we've all heard on ESPN. Understated but emotional, a highly effective lead performance.

Only two other performances are given a chance to breathe. A pre-weight loss Jonah Hill plays Peter Brand, the brilliant baseball mind who looks at the sport as a statistic, not a sport based solely on physical skills/talents. The character is based off Beane's top assistant, Paul DePodesta. He too was nominated for his part -- didn't win -- and shows that if there was a question, he can most certainly act in a dramatic part, not just do comedy. Hill is so sublimely underplaying his part, you don't always notice his part, but then you think back and realize what a perfect counter/foil he is to Pitt's Beane. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Art Howe, the A's manager who resents Billy for some of his out-of-the-box thinking. Because it is a movie about Beane and his Moneyball strategy, Howe's part is downplayed, the manager coming off as a whiny punk. Still, a good part for Hoffman without a ton of screentime.

I love sports movies from the great to the good to the awful. This true sports story is a self-confident sports story. Like its two stars in Pitt and Hill, it is understated. It doesn't blast away at you, insisting you understand the message. STATS ARE IMPORTANT!!!!! I loved the musical score from Mychael Danna, an almost ethereal, synthesized electronic sound. Give a listen HERE and poke around Youtube bit, the soundtrack is a real winner. The story varies between live action and archive footage from the 2002 season, and while it doesn't focus on a ton of key games, it knows when to delve into some detail. Is it a compliment to say a movie is self-assured? I hope so because I intended it that way. Now if you're not a sports fan, you can stop reading. I loved the movie, but as a baseball fan I had some issues with the movie. NERD ALERT! NERD ALERT!

In an effort to emphasize Beane's impact on the A's and MLB in 2002 and since, the story in Moneyball is streamlined. Losing key players in slugger Jason Giambi, lead-off man Johnny Damon, and closer Jason Isringhausen, Beane and Hill must improvise. The movie focuses on three key signings including journeyman Scott Hatteberg (Christ Pratt in a great part), aging star David Justice and submarine "specialist" pitcher Chad Bradford. Yes, I know a movie can't tell every little thing, but it completely disregards part of the team's success. Yes, the A's lost Giambi and Damon. They still had Miguel Tejada (34 HRs, 131 RBIs in 2002), Eric Chavez (34 HRs, 109 RBIs), and Jermaine Dye (24 HRs, 86 RBIs) offensively. Oh, and that pitching staff? How about Barry Zito (23 wins, 2.98 ERA), Mark Mulder (19 wins, 3.47 ERA), Tim Hudson (15 wins, 2.98 ERA), and Billy Koch (44 saves, 11 wins)? Yes, Beane and his staff made some crazy brilliant moves that season, but to basically ignore all those other players? It's a disservice to the story of what was a great season. That's the end of my baseball nerd alert. Back to your regular programming.

My objections to the movie are because I love baseball. That's all. As a stand-alone story without much in the way of prior baseball knowledge, it is still a highly effective, well-told and professionally done movie. Easy-going isn't fair to describe it, but Moneyball has a confidence that brings it up a notch. Pitt and Hill are a great duo together. It's a great baseball and sports movie, but mostly it's just a good movie.

Moneyball <---trailer (2011): ****/****

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