books to film

Book versus movie: Brad Pitt-starrer ‘Moneyball’ takes the best of the text and makes it better

If you are even a tiny bit a sports fan, you will enjoy them both.

In sports, the players are the stars of the show. It is they who draw the crowds, get their faces on billboards and marry drop-dead- gorgeous people. Pop-culture reflects this through innumerable books and movies about players (and sometimes coaches).

But what about those who hold the destiny – and employment contracts – of these superstars in their hands? The scouts scout, the coaches coach and the players play. What difference then, could a general manager make to a team’s performance?

In 2003, Michael Lewis answered that question in his seminal book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game. Tracking the progress of a professional baseball team through its 2002 season, the non-fiction work told the story of General Manager Billy Beane who “stopped buying players and started buying wins instead”.

At the end of the 2001 season, the Oakland Athletics had lost three of their most important players to richer teams. The financial gulf between the teams was enormous and Beane had to figure out a way to win without the resources that the others had. Using knowledge accumulated by pork-and-beans factory security guard-turned-statistician Bill James and Harvard economics graduate Paul DePodesta, Beane went about assembling a team that achieved precisely that.

This was essentially a numbers story. The problem is that if you are writing such stories for a mass audience, it can be hard not to lull them to sleep. And while it has been done now with some success (with such books as Freakonomics, The Undercover Economist and Bounce), in 2003 it was hard to find a mainstream market for a book about statistics.

But find a market it did and such was the book’s impact on public consciousness that moneyball is now the buzzword for extracting maximum advantage from minimal resources.

'Moneyball' by Michael Lewis. Published by WW Norton & Company. Image via Wikimedia Commons
'Moneyball' by Michael Lewis. Published by WW Norton & Company. Image via Wikimedia Commons

Moneyball the book had two things going for it: sports and Lewis’s talent.

The book had a ready market in baseball fans. Moreover, with much of sports literature comprising sappy hagiographies, fans of other games gravitated towards it as well.

It also helped that Lewis is a really good storyteller. This is a man who has written entertaining books about the stock market and the financial crisis. He is a meticulous researcher and captures the human element in these stories brilliantly. In fact, he paints such an impressive portrait of Beane that even Brad Pitt, the personification of handsome, just about matches up in Bennett Miller’s movie version.

The movie came out in 2011 after a change in director and two script rewrites. While the final version was written by Aaron Sorkin, the movie also credits Steve Zaillian for the screenplay. Zaillian has written the scripts for Schindler’s List (1993) and Gangs of New York while Sorkin wrote what many consider the best political show on TV (West Wing) and the 2010 blockbuster The Social Network, which won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Clearly, the story was in good hands.

The movie followed the book in most aspects but differed in that it wrapped the whole story around Beane. With good reason too, for Pitt gave one of his career-best performances in Moneyball. For an actor who has always seemed more comfortable in physical roles (think Fight Club and Inglourious Basterds), this was a revelation.

Pitt is perfect as the ex-jock turning conventional wisdom on its head. Despite his towering personality, Pitt’s Beane is still believable as the underdog. The film also makes him more human by writing in some scenes with his daughter and ex-wife. These add little by way of the story but flesh out Pitt’s character to just the right degree.

Pitt’s recreation of Beane encapsulates a line from the book: “Any very large angry man can unsettle a room...but Billy has a special talent for it.” This is most evident in the scene where Beane ensures silence in the locker room by walking in and smashing the stereo. This is a space full of baseball players with big muscles and bigger egos. But when Pitt’s Beane is in the room, there is no question of who is in control.

The movie also stars Philip Seymour Hoffman as the team’s coach. Hoffman delivers a masterful performance as a man who reluctantly tries to fight Beane but honestly just wants a longer contract. The ability to be dismissive even to a superior is a Hoffman special and he does it impeccably every time.

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Moneyball (2011)

Any movie adapted from a book is necessarily a distillation of its source material. Some of the story must inevitably be lost to produce a smaller, visually fulfilling product. In Moneyball, this is done by dropping one of the best parts of the book: the draft, or the selection of high school or college players for Major League teams

In the book, Lewis devotes an entire chapter to the process. It is replete with rich detail as Lewis delves into the strategy of the Oakland Athletics. The way the selection pans out is more interesting than most actual baseball games. However, there was no way the film could replicate this as the viewer would need too much background information to appreciate what was happening.

On the flip side, you can read a thousand times about a ball hitting the bat but the vicious crack when leather meets wood can only be captured in the talkies. And Lewis can do his best to describe the jubilation of a 110-kilo player hitting a home run without realising it but it is only when you see the scene play out on the screen, with even the opposing team cheering him, that you realise there are things a movie can convey that a book just cannot.

Moneyball was a ridiculously good book. Moneyball was a ridiculously good movie. If you are even the smallest bit a sports fan, you will enjoy them both.

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Moneyball (2011)
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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.