Moneyball: Way too on the money

Do you love a good baseball movie? Does thinking about Field of Dreams or Bull Durham just get you all wistful? Or The National? Yeah, me too. Moneyball is none of those.

Or were you stunned and amazed by Russell Crowe’s mathematical brilliance in Beautiful Mind? Well, me, not so much.

But this movie is kind of a combination of those two. If you’re going for a rousing baseball movie, you’d best stay home. Ditto if the sight of math (especially math on a screen) starts putting you into heaves.

I just don’t know what to make of this movie. There are so many reasons I wanted to like it.

For instance, I attended with my friend who (GASP!) had never even HEARD of Aaron Sorkin, much less cottoned to his patented “walk and talks.” Sorkin, though, is the second credited writer on this. After Steven Zaillian. Now, if one has a discussion of the top ten living screenwriters today, it’s pretty assured that both of those names would be on the list.

Still, the script pretty much left me cold.

Part of it was the script (or lack of it), part of it was the ham-fisted direction by Bennett Miller. You can just read the page in your mind: “and he tears up, hearing his little girl’s voice. He decides to stay.” CUT TO: Tears in his eyes.

No joke. The final (supposed to be poignant shot, I guess) was a close-up of tears in Brad Pitt’s eyes. I wanted to barf.

And you would think that with eight (and counting) little brats of his own, that he’d be able to convey this fatherliness that warrants the end tear-up. I musta missed it.

Also, while his team is out there, struggling it out, Brad Pitt’s character is anywhere but on the field or watching. He’s working out, he’s in his office, he’s driving, far away. Why? Well, if you rustle your popcorn at the wrong time you’ll miss it, but his little tyke at one point says, “You’re not gonna jinx it, go back.”

From this, I guess, that you are supposed to glean that he’s afraid of jinxing his own team. That’s why he stays away. And, to hammer that point home, he returns when they have an 11-point lead. The other teams starts scoring. It ends up tied.

Do we cut to the drama on the field? No, been there, done that. Instead, we get Pitt, agonizing in the locker room about whether or not he’s jinxing them. Yikes.

Maudlin crap like that.

So, the direction was dreadful. But let’s get back to the story.

Now, if it’s a good baseball movie, it should be understandable by anyone who watches it, whatever their level of baseball knowledge.

And I love baseball. I wouldn’t claim to be intimate with all its arcana, though.

The premise here is that MLB had gotten too full of its britches, offering million-dollar contracts to people who really didn’t deserve them. And that some Yale dude had figured out a mathematical way to know who deserved to be hired and who didn’t. Based on how often they got on base. Mathematically.

Jonah Hill does the best with this that he can. Coach Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who still wants to coach baseball his way, adds some fire to a nothing role.

But to me, in the end, baseball is really about those guys out there on the bases. Not the money men counting out their worth in back rooms. This movie dealt far too much with those guys. Did this new way of “counting” change baseball? Apparently so.

Do we care? No matter how many close-uped tears you shoot, the answer is still no.

If Not Money, then What, Oliver?

Perhaps it started with “Inception.” Or “Toy Story 3.” Or those lonely souls who’ve already viewed “Winter’s Bone.”

But for me, the Oscar derby begins in full swing with Oliver Stone’s latest, and most successful opening, “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.”


I entered the film with trepidation. I mean, here we are, a depressed people, our country gutted by these slime like Gordon Gekko who played fast and loose with our money. Why on earth would I want to see a movie that glorifies him and makes like he’s the hero?

For me, the answer to that is: it helps us understand. Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street 2” gives us a little morality tale. It turns out that greed isn’t really good, even Gordon Gekko tells us that. But greed “is systemic, in everything.” And by everything, he means, not only the money he and those of his kind played fast and loose with, but also the suburban housewife who bought a nice house beyond her means, or those whose eyes are constantly moving up to the next hot thing.

He’s right about that. And in the end, it’s Gordon Gekko, challenging us. If the system is to change, we all must change.

Sadly, the script doesn’t really bear the conviction of its words. (For a minute, it does really make us think, though.)

There was a scene that really bothered me, which is representative of what I’m talking about. Gordon Gekko’s daughter, played by the Oscar-nominated Carey Mulligan (for “An Education”), is the hippie environmentalist. She doesn’t care for this money thing, she shuns it at every turn. Yeah, ok. Doesn’t wanna be like her dad. Get it.

Her fiance, Shia LeBouef, buys her a quite gorgeous diamond engagement ring. It makes her uncomfortable, all that ostentation and money and stuff. So sometimes, she takes it off. And in one of these moments, she grabs a Cracker Jack package. Opens it, BY HERSELF while her fiance is watching TV. Inside is a plastic ring (to say nothing of the reality that Cracker Jack stopped putting rings into prizes before this girl was born). In any case, she puts the plastic ring on her own hand, and proudly wears that one around in front of family and friends.

Wow. Isn’t she making a statement now?

Well, no.

Look, I’m a hippie environmentalist who eschews diamonds too. But here’s the thing. Nobody, even the brokest among us, is going to say or think that a cheap plastic ring from China is going to be better on one’s hand than a solid ring. It just makes you look stupid. Besides, it’s much more likely to break. Isn’t an engagement ring supposed to signify permanence?

Secondly, SHE takes it out of the package and puts it on her own finger. That whole thing just grosses me out. It’s supposed to be a token of a union between TWO people. He put the diamond on her finger, that’s the ring she should keep. That’s the one that signifies the bond between them.

Really, can you imagine the conversation (which never occurred in the movie), “Hey honey, do you mind if I don’t wear this ring you paid hundreds of thousands for? I’m just gonna slum it with this plastic Cracker Jack piece of crap.” Yeah, right. In what universe? Sorry, didn’t buy that at all.

Also, one would think the Michael Douglas character learned something in prison. Perhaps a bit of humility and concern for others. It’s a concept.

When the big reveal happens, it’s a sucker punch. Really? He learned nothing? Same old, same old? Sad.

And then, worse, he turns around and gets repentant, though there’s really no justification for this in the script. He just shows up one day after double-crossing them, and says, “OK, take me back now. I wanna be a dad again.” Really? And it’s that easy?

I hated that part of the movie. I liked the fact that it showed that life is about more than money moving around. I like that it opened up some emotional bonds between father and daughter and son-in-law. But it really didn’t seem to know what to do with those emotions. None of them seemed real.

Along the way, I enjoyed watching Carey Mulligan, Shia LaBouef and Michael Douglas in their machinations. Austin Pendleton was great, as always. Josh Brolin was a great bad guy, the motorcycle scene was awesome to watch. Frank Langella has a stunning cameo turn. He’s almost like if the Jimmy Stewart character in “It’s a Wonderful Life” had grown up and was still running a bank. Sad to see what happens there.

But I would’ve liked this movie better if it took a position and stayed there. Do we hate rich people? Or don’t we? Do we celebrate the money manipulators? Or don’t we? Is family more important than anything? Or isn’t it?

It will get some people talking. Oliver Stone is certainly a master director. But I’m still not sure I liked it.