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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Moneyball

January 21st, 2012

Moneyball - Buy from Amazon: DVD, Blu-ray, and Blu-ray Combo Pack

Moneyball opened in September, which is a terrible time of year to release a film, no matter what the studio is hoping for. It's the beginning of the school year, so the box office numbers will be weak, plus it is far too early for Awards Season. At least that's the case most years. Most September releases are terrible and usually more wide releases debuting during the month will have Tomatometer Scores that are below 20% positive than have overall positive scores. Strangely, this year there were four September releases that have gone on to earn nominations from at least one major awards committee. Moneyball has been leading that group (Warrior, Drive, and 50/50 are the other three) but will I add my voice to the choir singing the film's praise? Or will I be part of the minority of critics that were not drawn into the story?

The Movie

The film begins on October 15, 2001 with the Oakland As in the American League Division series against the most evil of baseball teams, the New York Yankees. The New York Yankees' payroll was nearly three times that of the Oakland As, so it should come as no real surprise that they were eliminated. It's not just one heartbreaking loss for Billy Deane, the Athletics' general manager, as he knows his three best players will be lost due to free agency next season. He's got to find a way to replace them, but the owners don't have the money to compete. He's got to find a way to replace three starters and field a team of 25 players, while staying within a total budget that's only double what those three players alone will earn that year.

The first obstacle he runs into, besides the owner, is his own scouts. They've been at the game for a long time and are unwilling to abandon their old methods and try something new. Billy Deane knows their old methods won't work, because his career showed that they don't work. All of the terms they use now to describe prospects ("has the right face", "has the right swagger", "five-tool player", etc.) were used to describe him in 1979 when he was a hot prospect. However, despite going in the first round, he never made an impact on the sport, as we see in flashbacks during the movie.

Back to 2002, Billy Deane heads to Cleveland trying to trade, but when he thinks he has a deal, Peter Brand, a young analyst, seems to veto the trade. This piques Billy's interest. Who is this guy and why is the general manager listening to him? This is his first job out of university. He went to Yale where he studied economics and had no background in baseball. Later that day, Billy calls Peter and asks him one simple question: Would Peter have drafted Billy in the first round. When Peter says he would have drafted Billy in the ninth round, Billy hires him from out of Cleveland.

Peter Brand isn't welcomed with open arms in the Oakland organization, as the old scouts are pissed that Billy would ignore all of their experience and leave it up to a number cruncher to build a team. It gets so bad that their head scout, Grady, basically taunts Billy into firing him. The coaching staff, led by Art Howe, are also skeptical of the choices made. Early in the season, it seems that the skeptics are right. But will they turn things around?

When it comes to making sports movies, there's always the risk that those not interested in the sport in question will ignore the movie. However, Moneyball is about more than baseball. It's about someone trying to change the system and coming up against a lot of opposition from people who are dead set against those changes, because they have built their careers on the status quo. This story is developed in a script that should win an Oscar nomination. It also features fantastic performances from Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Kerris Dorsey, who played Casey Beane, Billy Beane's daughter.

This does segue into a couple of problems the film has. Firstly, almost without exception, Kerris Dorsey has more lines and more screen time than any individual player does. The actual play on the field is shown in little more than montages and is of far less importance to the film than the emotional strain Billy Beane deals with while trying to implement a new system. If you do go in looking for a baseball movie, you might be disappointed. Also, while Brad Pitt and Kerris Dorsey have good chemistry together as father and daughter, some of the family scenes felt a little out of place. This is especially true the first time Billy sees his ex-wife, Sharon, and then when Billy took Casey to buy a guitar. It felt like the filmmakers were trying too hard to humanize him. It wasn't necessary and the simpler interactions with Casey worrying about her dad's job and Billy trying to comfort her were enough.

The Extras

Extras on the DVD include three minutes of outtakes, three deleted scenes, and two featurettes. The first is called Billy Beane: Re-Inventing the Game, which includes interviews with the real Billy Beane. On a side note, I really like how they mention that he really didn't change the game. He may have helped change scouting and evaluating players; however, the real game, the payroll discrepancy, is still just as bad now as it was then. In fact, it's gotten worse. Major League Baseball needs a system like the NHL where there's good revenue sharing, plus a salary cap and a payroll minimum. Back to the DVD, the second featurette is Moneyball: Playing the Game, which is more of a traditional making of featurette. That's not a whole lot for a first run release and an audio commentary track would have been appreciated.

The Blu-ray includes Drafting the Team, a 21-minute look at the ensemble cast. Adapting "Moneyball" is a 17-minute featurette, which is exactly what it sounds like, a featurette on adapting the book. There is also an ad for the upcoming MLB 12 The Show video game. The Blu-ray is also BD-Live enabled. Finally, if you buy the Combo Pack, it comes with the DVD, or you can buy the Blu-ray separately. Either way, they come with Digital Copies of the movie.

When you get into any discussion of the technical presentation here, there is one caveat to take into account. There is a lot of archival footage, or footage meant to look like archival footage. Obviously these scenes won't look great in high definition, as they are very grainy or are extreme close-ups of TV screens, etc. On the other hand, most other scenes look amazing in high definition. The level of detail is excellent, the colors pop, the blacks are deep and the contrast is amazing. There are a few quirks that keep it from being reference level material, but it is close. The audio is less impressive, mainly because of a lack of action from the surround sound speakers. It's a very front and center mix. There are enough ambient sounds that it doesn't feel flat, but it is not showy.

As for the prices, the DVD costs $18 while the Blu-ray costs $20. If you want the DVD and the Blu-ray, it's just $23. Those are all excellent prices for what you get.

The Verdict

I don't know how many awards Moneyball will win in the end, but it certainly earned all of the nominations. It is absolutely worth picking up, even if the extras on the DVD are a little light. The Blu-ray or Blu-ray Combo Pack are Pick of the Week material. Which one is the better deal depends on if you want to spend $3 on a DVD copy.

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Filed under: Video Review, Moneyball, 50/50