Sports are hard to turn into movies. You can go the comedic route, such as in Bull Durham, Major League, and Slapshot, and take advantage of people’s passion for the game while at the same time making them laugh; it’s a great formula. Trying to make a serious Sports film, however, is something all together different. On September 23rd, Brad Pitt and Columbia Pictures are going to try to do it.
The most successful sports films, the ones that crawl into our subconscious and live there for decades, are the ones that tug at the sentimental part of the sport experience. These movies, like Rudy, Field of Dreams, or (I’m choking up just writing these words) Brian’s Song, do a great job of bringing humanity onto the field, making us look at the world of sports as something grander then just a ball and a bunch of sweaty men. Then there are the lovable loser movies, in which we cheer for the underdog team as they strive for that one, big win, like Miracle and Hoosiers. But there is something within sports that all of these movies dabble with, but never fully explore, and it is one of the greatest, most unsung draws of any game: strategy.
Most sports fans started watching their game of choice with their father. Perhaps it was football, and everyone knew that Sundays were reserved for long hours on the couch with a bowl of popcorn, a six of beer, and a screaming father who couldn’t understand why the Offensive Line couldn’t stop a sack. Maybe in your house it was baseball, and you went to a game with your pop, awestruck as you gazed out over the diamond as the players jogged out to their positions. No matter how it started, the thing that eventually hooked you was the depth of strategy that was happening on that field that others seemed to understand, but just wasn’t visible to you at first. As the years passed, and you started to make sense of the mechanics of your chosen game of interest, you no doubt began to fall in love with the intricacies of the sport. Knowing why that new rookie was a great pick, understanding that the coach was holding an ace in his closer, watching a Quarterback expertly mix his long and short game, these were the reasons you kept watching – and no movie has ever truly tapped into that feeling.
Then came Moneyball. This movie, based on the best selling novel by Michael Lewis, The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, delves deep into the strategy of baseball. And not just the age-old wisdom of the game, but the new, exciting, and arguably superior strategy developed by the Oakland Athletics in the early 2000’s. This revolutionary new system of equating player value has subverted an utterly broken, no-salary-cap game that had been dominated by the richer teams for far too long. Want to win? Buy your team. While the Yankees were spending $125 million in salary, the Oakland A’s were handing out a paltry $41 million. It was a recipe for disaster, yet somehow, beyond all expectation, they became competitive.
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Brad Pitt stars as Oakland’s General Manager, Billy Beane, and brings the star power to this movie that might help guys convince their girls to give it a shot. Jonah Hill is here as well, bringing a level of humor that can help to pad the boring statistical minutia, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman brings a level of artistic integrity as Oakland’s Manager, Art Howe.
I haven’t seen the movie (it doesn’t come out until September 23rd) but I’m excited about it. I love the nuances of sports. I love learning about the insider’s game, the ins and outs of the back office, and the strategies that are played out on and off the field. Seeing a movie like this gives me hope that more people will get introduced to the intricacies of baseball, and perhaps inspire filmmakers to tackle other sports in the same way.
One day there will be a truly riveting Water Polo movie!!
PS – In all seriousness though, if Moneyball does well we might see them finally move forward with the movie version of Buzz Bissinger’s excellent book, 3 Nights In August, detailing a three game series between the Chicago Cubs and the St Louis Cardinals through the eyes of Tony La Russa. Fingers crossed.
PPS – Hey Music Fans, want to know what that awesome song in the trailer is? It’s a band called This Will Destroy You, and the song is The Mighty Rio Grande. It’s available on i-Tunes, but the song is an album-only purchase (lame!), but it’s worth it.