Show me the Moneyball
Posted by Tom Brown
First, though: why the comparison? Well, there’s the razor-sharp, high-stakes dialogue of screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. Also, the fact that both films are based on paradigm-shifting true stories from the last decade or so – and the fact that both stories are, in their own ways, still unfinished. There’s an affinity, too, in the renegade protagonist of each movie. Both Billy Beane and Mark Zuckerberg are single-minded guys – geeks? – with big ideas fighting different kinds of establishments. And yet, as is also the case with Sorkin’s problematic Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, neither big idea is, in itself, quite as important as Sorkin’s favoured vernacular demands.
So why, then – despite knowing nothing about baseball – did I enjoy Moneyball more?
Well, the first thing to say is that Moneyball isn’t really about baseball. Granted, neither is The Social Network really about Facebook, but what matters is what’s left once you dig below surface meaning. And it’s in that respect where Moneyball hits its blood-brother out of the park. How? Here are five possible answers.
1. Moneyball is told in real time, whereas the legal flashback framework in The Social Network – structured to add jeopardy to events that might otherwise seem undramatic – interferes with the linear momentum of the film. You never quite know where to look for the source of tension and, as a result, you never feel where resolution needs to occur.
2. Events in Moneyball are brought to a more satisfying conclusion. Despite the awkwardness of the real-life story still not having come full circle, Moneyball locates and nails the all-important pay-off, achieving emotional resolution in the absence of narrative closure. The Social Network, on the other hand, is left hanging, with the constituent episodes of the narrative failing to add up to a satisfying whole.
3. The characters in Moneyball are, to a man, more likeable than in The Social Network. Unavoidable, to an extent, but some avenue of empathy is required with even the hardest-nosed characters. With Zuckerberg in The Social Network, I always felt we were being told his story not because of who he is, but what he did. Whereas with the brilliant Brad Pitt as Billy Beane, the person made sense of his passions.
4. Moneyball is about sport, and sport is a fully-functional, out-of-the-box metaphorical wizard; a guaranteed short-cut to any number of universal themes that are much harder to locate in other subjects. Whether fans or not, we all understand the aim of winning, for the team and its supporters, meaning the meddlesome detail – in Moneyball’s case, how you win – will always be secondary. In The Social Network, however, the subtleties were not only paramount, but proved difficult to universalise into cogency and relevance.
5. More personally, as a Liverpool fan, beholden to John Henry’s view of things, the detail of Moneyball (making a little go a long way) couldn’t be more timely. The same goes for football overall. Bloated as the Premier League has become – a few clubs swallowing the cream of others’ labour – the time is ripe for a different way of doing things, just as with baseball in the early 2000s. This, in contrast to The Social Network, where it felt hard to reapply even more specific themes to different contexts.
So there you have it. A personal comparison of two companion pieces, both of which I admired, but one of which most definitely trumped the other.