We report so many projects that are in development these days that it’s a little satisfying to see a project actually get a greenlight, after months and months of setbacks, cast turnover, and script changes. The movie is Moneyball, which was — at one point — three days away from shooting with Steven Soderbergh as director before the studio pulled the plug, noting that the budget was too high and that the script wasn’t audience-friendly enough.
Cut to nearly a year later, and now the movie has gotten the greenlight again; it’s expected to begin filming in July. What’s the same? The title, of course, and Brad Pitt’s probable participation (as Billy Beane). What’s different? Aaron Sorkin has punched up Steve Zaillian’s script with what The Playlist is calling buddy humor (the good kind, not the broad, stupid kind — it is Sorkin, after all). The director has changed — Bennett Miller (Capote) will now direct. And Jonah Hill has been added to the cast, replacing Demetri Martin in the role of Paul Podesta, a smart move commercially, perhaps, but one that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me otherwise (the resemblance is lacking). Moreover, the budget has been trimmed from $60 million to $47 million, thanks to Brad Pitt’s salary concessions, which allowed this project to finally go ahead.
There’s even some speculation that Sony greased the wheels for Pitt to star in Moneyball for less money in exchange for a role in David Fincher’s The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo, speculation that Sony denies, but as we all know, studio reps are usually completely full of shit.
So, why is this a big deal, anyway? Why have movie blogs like ours spent so much time reporting the back and forth of a movie about a man (Billy Beane) who revolutionized baseball through the use of a different set of statistics, enabling him to make a contender out of a baseball team with a pitiful payroll (the Oakland As)? I can’t speak for the other movie blogs, but this is what I find compelling about Moneyball: It’s not a blockbuster; it’s got fantastic talent behind it; two of the best screenwriters in the business have taken a pass at it; and the directing talent has been top notch. The rub here, for me, is why did it take so much to get this movie greenlit when fucking Walt Becker (Wild Hogs, Old Dogs) can push a stupid movie through the studio system like Mother Hubbard on her 11th kid? You know: Becker’s got a movie in the early stages of development about a man who accidentally hits “reply all” in an email and inadvertently offends his family and co-workers. That’s the premise, and I bet that movie has a much easier time getting the greenlight than Moneyball has. That’s a goddamn shame.
So, chalk this one up to the good guys, folks. It took a lot of doing, but we might finally get to see a movie with intelligence and wit. About baseball statistics.