This is an enjoyable dramatization of the Oakland As’ 2002 season, from the perspective of their General Manager, who was trying to win games with the lowest budget in baseball. I say dramatization because there is a lot of poetic license here, and because the most important players on that team are barely even acknowledged.
So the first thing to deal with is the issue of the rather massive changes to history, none more obvious than Johah Hill’s character, who doesn’t actually exist. Presumably he’s an amalgam of multiple people but he appears to be based on one person in particular. I don’t know why that person is not mentioned by name, but it’s a little weird. But it’s not that weird for a historical drama to do this. And the weirder thing, to me, is the near-complete exclusion of Barry Zito, Tim Hudson, Miguel Tejada and Mark Mudler. (Jersey’s are shown, names are mentioned, but they’re mostly ignored.) I think I understand why the decision was made to focus specifically on the players that were risks, but it’s still weird to tell the story of a baseball team’s season and ignore its best players. If I have a criticism of this film, it’s this. (You can criticize the film for ignoring baseball, in general, but that’s not the story it’s trying to tell, right?)
That being said, this is an enjoyable version of the story, featuring a pretty great performance by Brad Pitt, a pretty great performance by Johan Hill (even if the guy never existed) and, of course, lots of good lines. (I really hope at least a few of them are from the book, i.e. are real.) Moreover, the film is extremely well-paced, with a palpable sense of momentum even though you know what’s going to happen.
If it wasn’t so entertaining, I think it would be pretty easy to rip on it for how it’s about managing baseball, not about playing baseball, and how it’s somewhat of a distortion of what actually happened.
But when we watch a drama about a historic event, we tacitly accept that, in order to be entertained, the truth will be fudged with. In this case, the result is an entertaining movie.