TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE – The Review
How many actors could get away with a scene where they sing “You are my Sunshine” to their wife’s grave without audible audience eye-rolling? Not many, but the hoarse-voiced, glaring, grouchy old man Clint Eastwood plays in TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE is a great movie character in one of the best films I’ve seen this year and it’s a typically vigorous and entertaining performance from the 82-year old actor (and the first he’s starred as an actor in somebody else’s film since IN THE LINE OF FIRE directed by Wolfgang Petersen, in 1993). TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE is a baseball story, an old-fashioned road movie, and a father-daughter melodrama. It’s flawed and predictable but still great family entertainment filled with emotion, humor, and that terrific career-capping performance from Clint.
Eastwood plays Gus Lobel, a talent scout with the Atlanta Braves three months out from his final contract. We’re introduced to Gus as he’s trying to coax out a healthy pee and eating leftover Spam from a tin can. His eyes are going bad and he can’t use a computer but he’s still the best in the biz, able, as his pal and fellow scout Pete (John Goodman) says “spot a future baseball star from an airplane”. The Braves brass question Gus’s judgment but send him to North Carolina to scout Bo Gentry (Joe Massingill) a high-school powerhouse with a hot bat and a big ego they’re interested in drafting. Amy Adams plays Gus’s daughter Mickey (as in Mantle) a high-powered workaholic lawyer on the verge of becoming a partner at her firm. In therapy over having been sent off to relatives and boarding school after her mother died young so Gus could continue to troll the minors for talent, Mickey has all sorts of issues with her dad (and men in general). Pete convinces her to accompany Gus on what could be his final assignment.
Eastwood takes a break behind the camera, leaving that task up to long-time assistant Robert Lorenz who directs in the unobtrusive and economical style associated with his mentor, only getting artsy during some sepia flashbacks involving Mickey as a child, a horse, and a brief shot of a younger Clint (pulled, I believe, from DIRTY HARRY). The story has enough heart-tugging warmth for half a dozen Frank Capra movies, and Lorenz wrings it out expertly, but the film doesn’t take its soft edges to extremes or play the audience for fools. Much of the film takes place in honky-tonks and pool halls and Clint’s gotta great barroom fight scene where he growls the money line “Now get out before I have a heart attack trying to kill you.”
The script for TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE by Randy Brown is generally smart with some funny and insightful lines and the characters are nicely developed. Despite the greeting card perfection of the story, it’s impossible not to get caught up in Gus and Mickey’s relationship and, after MONEYBALL, baseball fans will appreciate a lo-tech movie about watching the game rather than studying statistics. It’s easy for a baseball movie to try too hard to get viewers to cheer but TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE achieves the goal by allowing the good feelings to emerge through top-notch writing and acting rather than by artificial means. Growling and muttering, Eastwood appears to be offering a humorous critique on aging. Adams keeps up and her character is given a lot of back story including some law office politics and a callous boyfriend. She looks super-cute, tosses out baseball trivia convincingly, and she and Clint have remarkable chemistry. Old pros Goodman, Robert Patrick, and Ed Lauter provide much of the laughs (though can you really smoke cigars in the stands of high school games?). On the downside there’s Justin Timberlake as washed up pitcher turned Red Sox scout Johnny Flanagan, also eyeing Gentry. It’s a blandly written role and there are at least one too many romantic scenes between Johnny and Mickey that go on too long and remind us how much more interesting the Mickey/Gus relationship is. I wouldn’t call Timberlake a weak link but any number of actors his age could have played this part and been less…..Timberlake-y. There’s also an unconvincing last-chapter discovery of the world’s greatest undiscovered pitcher who happens to be the son of the woman running the run-down motel where Gus and Mickey are staying. It’s more than a bit contrived but does set up a satisfying comeuppance for Bo Gentry and the film’s villain, a Braves front-office brasser with his eye on the GM spot played by an oily Matthew Lillard. TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE is superior entertainment that moseys down some predictable paths but I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying it.
4 1/2 of 5 Stars