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Posted at 09:08 PM ET, 09/22/2011

‘Moneyball’: Why it’s this year’s ‘Social Network’


Brad Pitt, rallying his fellow underdogs, in "Moneyball.” (Melinda Sue Gordon - © 2011 Columbia TriStar Marketing Group, Inc. All rights reserved.)

“Moneyball” shares a number of immediately obvious connections with “The Social Network,” the deconstruction-of-Facebook movie that earned eight Academy Award nominations last year.

As “Network” was, “Moneyball,” which opens Friday, is being released on the early side of the fall movie season, by Sony, with backing from uber-producer Scott Rudin. Both films are based on books that focus on successful public figures (Mark Zuckerberg and Billy Beane, respectively).

Aaron Sorkin wrote the screenplay for “The Social Network” and also co-wrote, along with Steven Zaillian and Stan Chervin, the script for “Moneyball.” (It shows, by the way. Several sections of dialogue scream Sorkin, which makes them ... Sorkinean?)

And, like that social-media motion picture that came first, “Moneyball” is being met with a chorus of critical acclaim. (The Post’s Ann Hornaday gives it four stars.)

But these similarities only begin to describe the ways in which the metaphorical “Social Network”/“Moneyball” Venn diagram overlap. Here’s a list of 10 factors that prove that, while tonally different, equally fine films, “The Social Network” and “Moneyball” belong on the same page in the book of cinema.. (Warning: some minor “Moneyball” spoilers ahead.)

Both movies are underdog stories about guys who take on privileged rivals. In “The Social Network,” the driven Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) butted heads with the Winklevoss twins, the blue blooded Harvard students who claimed that they invented Facebook. In “Moneyball,” Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), general manager of the cash-strapped Oakland A’s, attempts to outstrategize big money Major League teams, perhaps best represented by that universal symbol of overfunded evil: the New York Yankees.

Both films are about progressive approaches that fly in the face of tradition. One deals with the rapid-fire evolution of social media, the other with a new way of handling the art and business of running a baseball team.

In each movie, the protagonist has a loser complex. Eisenberg’s Zuckerberg is a smart, talented guy who feels insecure due to his obsession with Harvard’s prestigious final clubs. Pitt’s Beane is a smart, talented guy haunted by his failure to become a successful pro baseball player.

“Network” and “Moneyball” explore the working relationship/ friendship between a male duo: Zuckerberg is to Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) as Beane is to his right-hand man Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), except — spoiler alert — one of those relationships is less conflict-ridden than the other.

Both movies devote a scene of succinct exposition to explain the complex premise behind their protagonist’s endeavors. In “The Social Network,” this happens early on when Zuckerberg explains how he hacks into the Facebook networks of various Harvard dorms to creator the predecessor to today’s Facebook, Facemash. In “Moneyball,” Brand breaks down the complicated equations behind his team-creation strategy in the simplest terms, describing it as buying runs instead of buying players.

Both demonstrate the paradox inherent in a venture that focuses on people but often doesn't value their humanity. Facebook exists, in theory, to facilitate close human relationships. But Zuckerberg often gets too lost in his coding and obsession with generating revenue to recognize the heart and minds behind all those profile pages. In “Moneyball,” Beane’s recruiting approach gives overlooked players a second chance, but does so based purely on a series of mathematical calculations. And he doesn’t hesitate to trade his players on a whim if he thinks he can find one whose stats will plug into the team just as effectively.

Both feature monologues from successful men explaining why unconventional outliers are winners: In “The Social Network,” Justin Timberlake’s Sean Parker does the honors. In “Moneyball,” it’s Boston Red Sox owner John Henry, played by Arliss Howard.

Zuckerberg and Beane are motivated, in part, by a girl they don’t see enough. For the Facebook founder, that’s Erica Albright (Rooney Mara), the girlfriend who dumped him. For the A’s GM, that’s his daughter Casey (Kerris Dorsey), who spends half her time with her mom, the ex-wife of Beane who is played by Robin Wright.

Characters in both movies spit out a pithy phrase to signify the urgency cultural change. Parker: “This is our time.” Beane: “Adapt or die.”

Both films are Oscar-worthy ...?: Clearly “The Social Network” was; it walked away with three Oscars for editing, score and adapted screenplay. Obviously we don’t know yet whether “Moneyball” will snag some nominations or not. But for a movie about playing the odds, its odds look pretty strong.

By  |  09:08 PM ET, 09/22/2011

Categories:  Movies

 
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