Review: Trouble with the Curve

Posted on September 20, 2012
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I’m convinced Clint Eastwood doesn’t act anymore, he’s just Clint Eastwood reciting lines. There is no more trying to be a character, no chameleon-like effort, he just does his thing.

And it’s safe to say it works.

Trouble with the Curve is a love story, not only between Amy Adams’ Mickey and Justin Timberlake’s Johnny, or Mickey and her father Gus, but between man, baseball and it’s purity.

Old timers always tell tales of being able to smell the grass, feel the pitch, and hear the seams. Baseball is an old game, and with that comes tradition and stories; the game has changed these days, but it’s still played with nine guys, gloves, bats and a white ball with red stitches.

Eastwood’s Gus Lobel is pretty much an extension of his character in Gran Torino, then again, so is pretty much anything Eastwood does these days. (Insert joke bout Republican National Convention and empty chair here)

Lobel is an aging scout whose eyesight is starting to go. A proven and trusted scout for the Atlanta Braves, Lobel has signed many young great players over the years. Trouble with the Curve sees Lobel and other talent evaluators following a cocky high school sensation named Bo Gentry, who seems to be modeled after current Washington Nationals phenom Bryce Harper. He’s a sure fire first round draft pick, and with the 2nd pick in the draft, it’s Lobel’s job to report to the Braves brass if they should use the pick on Gentry should the Red Sox, who are picking ahead of them, not take the kid.

Under the baseball layer rests Mickey, a 33-year-old lawyer in Atlanta who has seen her father come in and out of her life as often as pitchers get new baseballs. Dealing with the death of his wife, Gus found it hard to care for his daughter, although when they were together they’d spend time in the cheap seats watching and learning baseball.

With Gus’ eyesight and health going, long time friend Pete Klein, the head honcho of scouting for the Braves, played by John Goodman, reaches out to Mickey and says Gus could use her around to be his eyes scouting this potential prospect.

Not to mention scouting executives like Matthew Lillard’s Phillip Sanderson already doubting Gus and if he has the eyes, and wits to get the Braves the proper evaluation. The deck is stacked against Gus for sure, but he knows the game, he can hear it, taste it and he doesn’t need computers, or Saber metrics to analyze future talent like the new scouts do.

With Gus, Mickey and a cavalcade of scouts at every game, we are soon introduced to Johhny Flanagan, a young rival scout for the Boston Red Sox, played by Justin Timberlake. Johnny was a one time fireball pitcher who was scouted by Gus, drafted by the Braves and then traded where he subsequently went on to blow his shoulder out and never play again.

So what happens when a stunning red head comes walking up the bleachers, obviously everyone gawks, and obviously Johnny is going to take a liking to Gus’ daughter Mickey.

As we progress through the struggles of father and daughter, Mickey constantly is battling her legal work she left behind, and her stubborn father. She wants to “talk” to him, get him to open up about the past, but Gus is old and set in his ways.

Where Trouble with the Curve begins to falter is the main love story with Timberlake and Adams. It’s simply unnecessary. It’s obvious, and sure it sells, but it adds nothing to the story aside from some cool baseball trivia and a few “aww” moments. As much as you want this to be a baseball movie, the romance overshadows the baseball and that is unfortunate.

Scouting is such an integral part of the game that isn’t glamorized and often overlooked. There are great scenes of Gus and Mickey analyzing the game, dissecting pitches, arm angles, open and closed hips, or hitches in swings. Things like that are what baseball fans, like me, love to see. Towards the end of the film we see a very cool moment where Mickey discovers a talented pitcher; her interaction with him and what happens after makes for such a great anchor to the film.

Eastwood’s longtime producer, now first time director, Rob Lorenz does a great job of honing in on life on the road for an old time scout, shooting scenes in southern minor league ballparks, dingy motels, run of the mill bars and pool halls, it does feel authentic.

But there needed to be more of the baseball intricacies, the behind the scene jargon, scout logic, and less hog wash romance.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like the Mickey and Johnny angle is done poorly, it’s just over done and over saturated. Most of all it doesn’t accomplish anything while telling the overall story of the film. It’s one of those “needed Hollywood angles.”

Eastwood is solid as Gus, and certainly believable, Adams does a commendable job as his daughter and is actually impressive with the way she can rattle off baseball information. Timberlake can be stale at times, his desire to one day become a Red Sox broadcaster provides for some cringe worthy moments, and it wouldn’t be far off to say he was miscast.

Lorenz keeps the pace of the film running well, often adding in some funny deadpan Eastwood humor, and a signature growl every now and then. You get a great feel for the setting of the film; the direction and cinematography is top notch, taking the audience over the fence at high school and minor league parks.

Maybe what makes Eastwood so great is what I mention in my opening lines, the guy simply doesn’t seem like he is acting. I guess when it comes that natural; you’re doing something right. This is only the third film Eastwood has done in the last decade, but he still delivers a world-class snarl, and is genuinely hilarious when he is pissed off.

Not being able to hit a curve ball is a major red flag for any prospect. The ability to adjust, keep your hands back and not lunge at the hook essentially getting yourself out is something veteran ball players are still trying to master.

Trouble with the Curve dives deeper than baseball and prospects, it’s a heartfelt story of the love of the game bringing father and daughter together.

Whether it’s the curve ball of life or baseball, sometimes you just have to choke up, swing for the fences and see what happens.

Rating: C