After years in Hollywood hell, the movie adaptation of Michael Lewis’ Moneyball stepped into the on-deck circle today with the release of its first trailer. Plaguing the three directors (David Frankel, Steven Soderbergh, and, finally, Bennett Miller) and screenwriters (Steven Zaillian, Stan Chervin, and, finally, Aaron Sorkin) who took turns developing Moneyball was the problem of translating the book’s more advanced concepts — sabremetrics, traditional versus progressive front-office models, the budgets of baseball franchises, the minutiae of player contracts — into a story that made sense even to baseball illiterates. Their solution: Turning the Oakland A’s into Hickory High and Billy Beane into Norman Dale.
To the trailer! The poor Oakland Athletics keeps getting their lunch money stolen by bigger kids, but the scouting department, played by the cast of Cocoon (nice touch with the hearing aid!), wants to continue evaluating players based on the attractiveness of their girlfriends. So A’s GM Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) decides to shake things up. (He even says, “We’re gonna shake things up.”) The shaking comes courtesy of office drone Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a character based on then-assistant GM Paul DePodesta (who refused to allow the use of his name in the film, citing “factual” and “ephemeral” problems with the script), who explains to Beane, “Your goal shouldn’t be to buy players, your goal should be to buy wins.”
It’s kind of ironic that a film about progressive thinking looks like such a traditional sports movie. Heck, even Jonah Hill’s draft board looks suspiciously like the recruiting chalkboard in We Are Marshall. But midway through, the atmosphere gets shaky and some Explosions In The Sky-style guitars start chiming, and everything gets very Oakland Night Lights, right down to the sports talk radio voiceover. This abrupt shift in tone could just be Columbia’s marketing department covering its bases. Or it could be indicative of the amount of cooks in this film’s creative kitchen.
Things to watch for: Philip Seymour Hoffman giving great face as Art Howe, the 2002-with-a-bullet reference to Fabio, Chris Pratt as Andy Dwyer as Scott Hatteberg, and some classic Aaron Sorkin Internet-bashing (“Don’t go on the Internet”).
Will it be The Baseball Network? Will it be Breaking Away With a Copy Of Baseball Prospectus? Frankly, it could be Tree Of Jeremy Giambi and we’d still be down.
One thing’s for sure: Brad Pitt is about to do more for visors than any man since Mike Gundy.