Gus Lobel (Clint Eastwood) has been one of the best scouts in baseball for decades, but, despite his efforts to hide it, age is starting to catch up with him. Nevertheless, Gus-who can tell a pitch just by the crack of the bat-refuses to be benched for what could be the final innings of his career.
He may not have a choice. The front office of the Atlanta Braves is starting to question his judgment, especially with the country's hottest batting phenom on deck for the draft. The one person who might be able to help is also the one person Gus would never ask: his daughter, Mickey (Amy Adams), an associate at a high-powered Atlanta law firm whose drive and ambition has put her on the fast track to becoming partner. Mickey has never been close to her father, who was ill-equipped to be a single parent after the death of his wife. Even now, in the rare moments they share, he is too easily distracted by what Mickey assumes is his first love: the game.
Against her better judgment, and over Gus's objections, Mickey joins him on his latest scouting trip to North Carolina, jeopardizing her own career to save his. Forced to spend time together for the first time in years, each makes new discoveries-revealing long-held truths about their past and present that could change their future.
It's been nearly 10 years since Clint Eastwood has stepped in front of the camera while also not pulling double duty behind it, but if there were ever going to be a project he'd make the concession for it'd be Trouble With the Curve
. The film is the product of long-time Eastwood Assistant Director Robert Lorenz, who has been with the Unforgiven
director, in some capacity, since 1995. As such, he's well versed in the Eastwood school of directing, and might even know how to draw out a crowd-pleasing performance from the 82-year old actor.
Trouble With the Curve
centers on the story of Gus Lobel, a wise-beyond-his-years baseball scout for the Atlanta Braves that is beginning to show his age. Once a prized commodity for the organization, Lobel is now a relic of a time gone by. But Gus' overwhelming love of baseball has always kept him going, even at the detriment of his relationship with his daughter Mickey (Amy Adams). Mickey, despite an absentee father, has become a successful lawyer, and is on the cusp of making partner; her career, unlike her father's, is on the rise.
However, Gus is facing an industry that has become increasingly more focused on stats and less on innate talent, something that he specializes in finding. Think of Trouble With the Curve
as the antithesis of Moneyball
(2011) - while Jonah Hill's character focused on OBP, Lobel looks for a clean smooth swing. Unfortunately, a lot of Lobel's strengths as a scout are merely recounted to the audience in the film, with us being forced to simply believe he's a great talent rather than see it. Nevertheless, Lobel's a dying breed, but he'd like to prove he still has some viability. As a sort of last hurrah, Lobel sets out to the Carolinas to scout an up-and-coming prospect, but must begrudgingly accept the help of Mickey if he wants to do this one last job right.
The film is, for the most part, a crowd pleaser that follows a pretty conventional plot and hits all of the typical story beats along the way. Mickey and Gus slowly begin to understand one another through a shared love of baseball, but she still struggles with her father having ostensibly abandoned her as a child. As the film goes on Mickey begins to realize that her high power job isn't what makes her happy, and even finds a love interest in one of her father's competing scouts, played by Justin Timberlake. Unfortunately, a lot of the film's third act - in which much of the film's ongoing plot points come to a head - is rushed, and takes some extremely predictable and sappy turns. On a much more jarring note is a late revelation that paints Lobel's decision to send Mickey off to boarding school in a different light. It's a trite fourth quarter move that does nothing but attempt to engender a greater sympathy in Eastwood's character, who for the most part is unlikeable.
Robert Lorenz is clearly a student of Eastwood, as he follows a lot of the Oscar-winning director's conventions to a T. A simplistic score, unassuming cinematography, and fairly predictable story all result in a middle-of-the-road film that will leave most audiences satisfied, even if it doesn't deliver a new or, for that matter, compelling story. Eastwood fans will leave the theater clapping and smiling, but most others will find the film pretty run-of-the-mill.
As we enter the latter part of Clint Eastwood's career there are typically two camps formed in regards to the successfulness of his acting. Some say that Clint continues to be "Clint" - the gruff cowboy from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly -- while others feel he has become a caricature of how audiences see him outside of the movies. Gus Lobel is a man's man -- he eats pizza for breakfast, smokes cigars, and drives a Detroit muscle car -- but he might also be an extension of that second Clint Eastwood persona. He scowls, slings one-liners, and for the most part is Clint Eastwood, the gravelly voiced actor. Eastwood's lines in Trouble With the Curve are kept to a minimum, thankfully, as most elicited laughs from the audience. However, it's unclear if those laughs were a response to the character's lines being humorous, or if it was Eastwood's delivery. With that in mind, know that Eastwood's performance is very similar to his turn in Gran Torino, only significantly less racist. He'll struggle to draw emotion out of audiences that find his on screen persona off-putting, but he sticks to what has been working for him all these years.
The remaining cast of the film does an admirable job of acting against Eastwood though. Amy Adams, as always, is a real standout, instilling Mickey with a heavy dose of emotional vulnerability, while at the same time embodying a girl who grew up around men. She's a strong female character that is as stubborn as her father, but is willing to except her faults. Adams' chemistry with Justin Timberlake's Johnny Flanagan isn't completely there, but he is a charming enough, and likable character nonetheless.
Additionally, John Goodman delivers a strong performance as Gus' close friend and boss, Pete -- you truly believe that he has the same passion for baseball that Gus does, and wants to keep him involved with the Braves. Overall, the cast does a fantastic job of making these characters feel real, even if they have to act against an exaggerated Eastwood.
September 21, 2012