SBD/September 23, 2011/Media

Writers And Critics Offer Their Takes On "Moneyball" Ahead Of Friday's Premiere

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In the lead-up to Friday’s premiere of “Moneyball,” movie critics and sports writers offered their reviews of the film based on Michael Lewis’ book of the same name. At presstime, the film had a 94% approval rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes among 118 reviews (THE DAILY). ROLLING STONE’s Peter Travers writes it is “one of the best and most viscerally exciting films of the year.” Travers: “‘Moneyball’ is a baseball movie like ‘The Social Network’ is a Facebook movie, meaning it isn’t. Both are about how we play the game of our lives, and the excuses we make in the name of winning” (ROLLING STONE, 9/22 issue). Film critic Roger Ebert gave the movie four stars, calling it a "smart, intense and moving film that isn't so much about sports as about the war between intuition and statistics." Ebert: "'Moneyball' is not a traditional sports movie, and indeed should be just as gripping for non-sports fans. It's not a series of Big Games. When it goes to the field, it's for well-chosen crucial moments. Its essence is in terse, brainy dialogue by the two accomplished screenwriters Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian" (ROGEREBERT.com, 9/21). The BOSTON GLOBE's, Carlo Rotella wrote the film “may well be the quietest, most contemplative big-time sports movie ever made.” It is a “rare attempt to make a movie about being smart -- not smart in an action-movie way, like James Bond or Jason Bourne, but smart like people who do well in school” (BOSTON GLOBE, 9/16).

 GRAND SLAM: The N.Y. POST's Lou Lumenick writes it is "probably the finest baseball movie since 'Bull Durham' back in 1988" (N.Y. POST, 9/23). The ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH's Joe Williams: "'Moneyball' is one of the best baseball movies imaginable" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 9/22). The CHICAGO TRIBUNE's Michael Phillips: "The best sports movie in a long time, period, as well as honestly inspirational" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 9/22). The Colorado Springs GAZETTE's Roger Moore writes the movie "takes a dry story about numbers and no-name ballplayers and turns it into something funny, deep and illuminating" (Colorado Springs GAZETTE, 9/23). ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark wrote he would “recommend it highly,” adding viewers will “come away thinking it was fun, thoughtful, well-written, well-acted and, for the most part, as real a depiction of the dawn of the Moneyball era as Hollywood is capable of” (ESPN.com, 9/16). The CONTRA COSTA TIMES' Randy Myers wrote the movie "scores as one of the sharpest, most entertaining films of the year" (CONTRA COSTA TIMES, 9/22).

NOT JUST FOR BASEBALL FANS: SI's Austin Murphy writes one of the many "pleasant surprises" about the film is how much "humor director Bennett Miller smuggles into the picture." Murphy: "Like all enduring sports movies, this one transcends its genre. 'Moneyball' is a movie about baseball the way 'The Sopranos' was a series about the waste-management business" (SI, 9/26 issue). The N.Y. POST's Mike Vaccaro writes "Moneyball" is an "enjoyable, funny, smart movie that is about baseball in the way that 'The Social Network' is about computers: as background, as a soundtrack of sorts" (N.Y. POST, 9/23). The NEW YORK OBSERVER's Rex Reed: “‘Moneyball’ is not your grandpa’s baseball movie. Even if you don’t know a fly ball from a snowball and couldn’t care less how great American pastime turned into the great American religion, this is a great American movie that will leave you cheering” (NEW YORK OBSERVER, 9/21). FOX SPORTS’ Ken Rosenthal noted baseball fans “and non-baseball fans alike will get something out of it.” Rosenthal: “Is the film faithful to the spirit of the book? Yes. Are there baseball inaccuracies that make me cringe? A few. But overall, did I like the film? Absolutely” (FOXSPORTS.com, 9/15). The Illinois DAILY HERALD's Dann Gire: "'Moneyball' is so masterfully told that even if you know the real story, you'll still be on cleats and needles anticipating what happens next" (Illinois DAILY HERALD, 9/22).

MORE THAN A GAME:  CBS movie critic David Edelstein said, "On one level, it's a rousing sports underdog story. On another, a movie about thinking outside the batter's box. It's the 'Bad News Bears' for MBAs. The movie is too long, but it's full of fast, cynical talk and it's very enjoyable" ("Sunday Morning," CBS, 9/18). NBC's Matt Lauer: "I thought the movie was really good. I'm a baseball fan and I like the intricacy of the baseball part of it, but it's a good movie" ("Today," NBC, 9/22). ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY's Owen Gleiberman wrote the "supersmart and rousing 'Moneyball,' which may be the best baseball movie since 'Bull Durham,' is also about talk, but in a coolly heady and original inside-the-front-office way." The movie is "a little long, with one too many endings, but it's a baseball drama about something novel and rich (EW.com, 9/21). The Portland OREGONIAN's Shawn Levy: "'Moneyball' does a splendid job of taking a wonkish subject matter, a well-known recent history and some traditional movie world settings and characters and blending them into a subtle, engaging and funny human drama" (Portland OREGONIAN, 9/23). USA TODAY's Claudia Puig: "This is a riveting tale of a man defying conventional wisdom -- and winning" (USA TODAY, 9/23). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Joe Morgenstern writes never before "have statistics added up to such electrifying entertainment." The movie "renews your belief in the power of movies." Brad Pitt "plays -- to perfection -- Billy Beane," and from "top to bottom, the casting is inspired" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 9/23). The OAKLAND TRIBUNE's Joe Stiglich wrote, “I give it a thumbs up.” It is a “very well-made movie and Brad Pitt, not surprisingly, gives a strong performance as Billy Beane” (IBABUZZ.com, 9/19).

UP THE MIDDLE: ESPN.com's Jim Caple wrote he "enjoyed it for the most part," and the "acting is excellent." Caple: "I just wonder whether I would like the movie more or less if I weren't a baseball fan. That's because one issue bothers me. Like the book, the movie gives far too much credit to Beane's 'Moneyball' strategy and not nearly enough to the players on the team." Director Bennett Miller said that he "didn't intentionally hit that aspect but that there wasn't enough time for it and it would have been a distraction from the movie's main storyline" (ESPN.com, 9/21). CNBC's Darren Rovell wrote "Moneyball" is a "movie that satisfies, but doesn't leave you with the feeling that you have to tell your friends about it." Rovell: "Sony executives are selling this as more than just a baseball money movie. It's about valuing people in different ways, they say. They do that because they have to. But there's really nothing that redeeming about Beane that makes his character bigger than the story itself" (CNBC.com, 9/21). NEWSDAY's Neil Best wrote the film does "as well as could reasonably be expected given the writing challenge, with a script that evolved radically after the project was halted in 2009." Best: "As with all based-in-truth sports films, fans will search for inaccuracies, and find some. But more than untruths, the movie for dramatic purposes emphasizes conflict and sharpens gray areas into black and white" (NEWSDAY, 9/20). The BOSTON GLOBE's Ty Burr writes the film is "an infield single but the one that wins the game." It is a "hilarious and provocative change-up, entertaining without feeling the need to swing for the fences" (BOSTON GLOBE, 9/23). The K.C. STAR's Jon Niccum gives "Moneyball" two and a half stars, noting the film is an "intriguing but often dry account of Beane's overhaul of Major League Baseball's long-standing tenets" (K.C. STAR, 9/23).

WAIT TIL' NEXT YEAR?
AP movie critic Christy Lemire wrote under the header "'Moneyball' Doesn't Quite Knock It Out Of The Park." Lemire: "What's most pleasing about the film doesn't really have to do with baseball. ... Yes, they're talking about baseball, but the intelligence of their interactions and the bond they forge transcend sport." Similarly, the "things that are wrong with the movie have nothing to do with baseball." Lemire: "'Moneyball' never feels like it's building toward anything, even if you know how the A's season unfolded that year. ... Whatever the cause, the end result often feels disjointed" (AP/ 9/20). The S.F. Chronicle's John Shea said he enjoyed the movie, but wondered if "people outside the Bay Area and people outside the baseball world enjoy it and appreciate it?" Shea said "maybe 50/50" of MLB GMs will like it or not like it and "a lot of scouts are not going to enjoy it" ("Chronicle Live," Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, 9/19). The N.Y. TIMES Adam Sternbergh noted the "Moneyball" philosophy "ultimately triumphed, but Billy Beane never quite did." The movie "struggles with this inconvenient reality; certainly it's odd to watch a sports movie that doesn't -- and can't -- end with that rousing ninth-inning game-winner" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/22).

CALLED OUT ON STRIKES: The S.F. CHRONICLE's Peter Hartlaub writes the film adaption is "filled with compromises." Hartlaub: "Someone crammed 'Major League' -style sports cliches into a more nuanced story about baseball and progress - and then tried to fit a Brad Pitt star vehicle inside of the that. The result is an interesting but frustrating near-miss." The '02 A's story is "arguably more of a moral victory than an actual one, but the narrative squeezes in a moment straight from 'The Natural' anyway," and baseball fans "who follow the game closely will question whether the team and its forward-thinking executives have accomplished all that this movie suggests they did" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 9/23). YAHOO SPORTS' Jeff Passan wrote the "chasm between the real story of Billy Beane and the manufactured one in the 'Moneyball' movie keep it from reaching the plateaus of its forbearers, no matter how slick the production, interesting the dialogue or arresting the cinematography." It is "disingenuous to show how cheap the A's were by suggesting players had to pay for soda -- and, even worse, having Beane negotiate a supply of carbonated beverages in a player trade." It is "misleading to villainize A's manager Art Howe as an abject insubordinate to make Beane look smarter" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 9/20).

WHAT DID YOU THINK? Have you seen or are planning on seeing “Moneyball” this weekend? If so, send us your brief review in less than 20 words to editorial@sportsbusinessdaily.com.

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