TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE
Following the worst performance of his career - his co-starring role opposite an empty chair at the recent Republican National Convention (the Oscar campaign is understandably being built around the chair) - Clint Eastwood returns to sturdier terrain with the baseball drama Trouble with the Curve. But why? Back in 2008, the accomplished filmmaker stated that the box office hit Gran Torino would mark his final performance and he would thereafter concentrate on directing unless a phenomenal script came his way. The screenplay for Trouble with the Curve, the first for writer Randy Brown, certainly showcases a character that plays to the actor's strengths, but the rest is so warmed-over that it's hard to see what caught Clint's squint.
The international icon stars as Gus Lobel, a legendary scout for the Atlanta Braves. It seems as if Gus's best days are behind him, as his eyesight is going, his last pick is trapped in a massive career slump, and opportunistic front-office shark Phillip Sanderson (Matthew Lillard) believes that old-timers like Gus are passé and that computer calculations regarding a player's worth are the future of the sport (in many ways, this movie is the anti-Moneyball). Gus is handed what might be his final assignment: He's to go to North Carolina and analyze the potential of a high school batting sensation named Bo Gentry (Joe Massingill).
He makes the journey alongside his estranged daughter Mickey (Amy Adams), a high-powered businesswoman who has just been made a partner at a firm otherwise solely staffed by stodgy, humorless men. Because of a number of scars from their shared past, Gus and Mickey (named after Mickey Mantle, natch) have trouble communicating, but their situation becomes marginally more tolerable with the arrival of Johnny Flanagan (Justin Timberlake), a former player who's now a novice scout for the Boston Red Sox. The easygoing Johnny holds Gus in high regard and finds himself taken by Mickey, but Sanderson's behind-the-scenes scheming threatens to poison all the relational wells.
As a stand-alone feature, Trouble with the Curve is pleasant yet persistently predictable, the sort of acceptable date-night fodder that evaporates from memory before the week is even out. Yet in examining the complete arc of Eastwood's career, it becomes difficult to justify the existence of the movie. I'm not referring to the theme of violence that was beautifully developed by Eastwood over the course of several decades, from the nihilistic gunplay of his '70s cop flicks through the muddy discourse evidenced in his latter-day Westerns to, finally, the extinguishing flame viewed in Gran Torino.
There are no guns in Trouble with the Curve, so it exists outside of that canon. What makes the film out of place is that the elderly man that Clint portrayed so powerfully in Million Dollar Baby and Gran Torino here has nothing else to say, nowhere else to go. The religious undercurrent that existed in those two films is missing here, the tears shed graveside over a lost loved one have already been spilled in other works (Unforgiven, for starters), and the prickly relationship with flesh-and-blood (Mickey) and the smoother one with surrogate child (Johnny) has already been mined to death by the movie star, most recently (and memorably) in Gran Torino.
No one is really required to stretch in this picture, but Adams and Timberlake at least still manage to surprise or please us in a few scenes - for instance, Johnny's bemused persistence in the face of Mickey's initial rejections works solely because of the actors' deft handling of these otherwise boilerplate moments.
But while it's always great to see Eastwood back in the cinematic saddle, one gets the sense that he's merely going through the motions here. He repeatedly kicks a coffee table that get in his way, yells at a waitress to bring him his check, blows off the advice of well-meaning doctors - in short, everything but bellowing, "Get off my home base!"