I read this book several years ago, and I remember being left with something of an empty feeling. It was like I wished they’d made this into a business book (lessons from Billy Beane to apply to your business) or had a happy ending or something. I couldn’t quite place my finger on what it was that bugged me about it. Until …
Six months ago, I saw the movie trailer for the first time. And I thought, “Yes! That’s what the problem was!” Immediately I realized my issue: this is the rare book that would make a much better movie. So I’ve been looking forward to this one for some time.
It was different than I expected. The subplot with his daughter wasn’t a part of the book at all. There was nothing at all in the movie about the baseball draft, which is one of the parts of the book I most remember – Billy Beane going to players who expected to be drafted in the 15th round, with offers to take them in the 7th round for 11th round money. I remember the book obsessing over the importance of an out – that a stolen base isn’t worth the risk, and a sacrifice bunt isn’t worth the cost – but that’s something you might’ve missed in the movie if you blinked at the wrong time. And I didn’t remember, nor did I expect from the movie, all the backlash he got from his own team, or the losing record the team had over the first quarter of the season. And structurally the movie was very . . . eclectic, making liberal use of stock footage and flashbacks, sprinkled throughout with no rigidity whatever to when or how they’re used.
But that’s not to say that these stock videos and flashbacks were used haphazardly. They were very carefully placed, just not with the same level of visual formality that one might expect from a Hollywood movie.
As a screenwriter, and one who’s worked with adaptations and true stories, I see everything they did and why. The daughter was there to increase the stakes, as were all the threats of him losing his job (which may very well have been exaggerated). They didn’t talk about the draft, because it adds a layer of complexity to a story that was more easily told through the lens of the handful of players who could represent the entire team. Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) was a fictionalized composite of Paul DePodesta and several other people – DePodesta didn’t want his name used, because of the way the character was portrayed. Not a surprise at all.
But I’m thinking a lot about character and dialogue just at the moment, and Peter Brand is one of the more interesting ones to talk about. Every line he has in the first three scenes demonstrates his awkwardness:
I wanted you to see these player evaluations that you asked me to do.
I asked you to do three.
To evaluate three players.
How many’d you do?
Actually, fifty-one. I don’t know why I lied just then.
I do. I know why he lied just then. It’s because it’s such a great way to demonstrate this guy as uncomfortable, awkward, and unsure of himself. (And again — not hard to see why DePodesta didn’t want his name on this character.)
Same thing with Art Howe, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Every line is a demonstration of his frustration at having to put together a winning season with what he sees as an insufficient number of quality players and a lack of faith in his ability to manage the team.
I was not expecting, though I can’t say I was completely surprised, to see Aaron Sorkin listed as the second writer on this movie. Although the dialogue was less circular than usual, and the main characters nowhere near as talkative as anyone we’re used to seeing in a script he wrote, it had his same sense of vitality and imagination.
Overall, excellent movie, and one I’d recommend both to people who have and who haven’t read the book.