Saturday, December 10, 2011

film review: Moneyball

A 500 word (monthly) film review by Steve Taylor (for Touchstone magazine). Film reviews of a wide range of contemporary films (over 65), each with a theological perspective, back to 2005 can be found here.

What do you value? Numbers, money, sentiment or fun?

“Moneyball”, directed by Bennet Miller (“Capote,” 2005) and scripted by Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network” 2010) is an engrossing exploration of the money in modern sport. The plot opens with a small baseball team, Oaklands Athletic, pitching against the mighty New York Yankees. One team is paid 39 million in salary, the other 114 million.

In the words of the manager of Oaklands Athletic, Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), “It’s an unfair game. We are organ donors for the rich teams.”

In response, Beane determines to value numbers instead of money. He recruits an economics graduate, who has an unlikely skill, the ability to reduce human performance to computer generated percentages. Together they recruit players undervalued by the market, and proceed to re-shape American baseball around statistical realities. As Beane quips, “I pay you to get on first, not get thrown out at second.”

Into this classic poor club v rich club narrative, is woven a number of personal plot threads, including Billy Beane’s past history as a failed player and personal present as divorced parent.

The movie is based on Michael Lewis’ bestselling book, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, which documents the real world success of Oaklands Athletic who in 2002 began to apply an empirical approach to player performance. The club entrusted their future to the compilation of statistics, to a computer screen rather than the intuition and experience stored in those who recruit.

The result is a fascinating window into contemporary culture. The movie might begin with baseball, but hits a home run as it explores where we might locate our pearls of great price. Because in this century, the choice is bewildering, from numbers to money, sentiment to fun.

Pleasingly, the film resists Disney-fication. A highpoint, a streak of wins that broke major American baseball league records, was made possible by a player deemed statistically unlikely to ever hit a home run. A low point involves the failure of Oaklands Athletic to make the finals they dream of.

Which leads to a fascinating, extended set of ethical scenes. Beane’s success, driven by his anger at big club money, ensures he himself becomes a target for recruitment. He is chaffeur drive and sweet talked with an offer that would make him America’s highest paid manager. It comes sugar coated in all kinds of twisted logic: “It’s not the money but what the money says. It says you’re worth it.”

While Brad Pitt is superb as a demanding, decisive baseball manager, the standout performance comes from Kerris Dorsey, who plays Billy Beane’s teenage daughter. Aged twelve, she strums a song (“The Show” by Australian singer-songwriter Lenka) and sings the lines which ultimately will help Beane clarify his values, his pearl of great price. “I want my money back. Just enjoy the show.”

Rev Dr Steve Taylor is Director of Missiology, Uniting College, Adelaide. He writes widely in areas of mission and popular culture, including regularly at

Posted by steve at 02:14 PM


  1. Always appreciate your reviews, Steve.
    Have a re-creative summer …

    Comment by Dave Mullan — December 19, 2011 @ 6:39 pm

  2. thanks Dave. feedback really appreciated and always valued


    Comment by steve — December 23, 2011 @ 12:12 pm

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