Clint Eastwood plays another of his grumpy old men in his latest drama, Trouble with the Curve. Of course, he’s been exploiting rather than hiding his age for decades, playing-age appropriate characters.
Twenty years ago in Unforgiven, Eastwood portrayed a gunfighter turned family man who, spurred by the killing of his friend and wounded by vicious humiliation, raises himself to enact explosive revenge.
Playing mentor to Hilary Swank’s hungry female boxer in 2004’s Million Dollar Baby, Eastwood’s veteran boxing coach character endured the greatest heartbreak of his life. He also starred as an ornery retired auto worker who learns to accept, even love his Asian neighbors in 2008’s Gran Torino.
Eastwood directed the latter award-worthy films. He throttles back a bit for Trouble with the Curve. The 82-year-old merely acts and co-produces. The film still retains the spare, elegant storytelling and look of Eastwood’s late-career projects.
Besides Eastwood in the film’s leading role, having his producing partner Robert Lorenz as director and other behind-the-camera talent who’ve worked with him through the years makes Trouble with the Curve an identifiably Eastwood project.
It’s not among his best films, but it’s not bad either. A few especially strong scenes recall Eastwood at his best, but the territory has begun to look a bit old.
Eastwood’s Gus is a scout for the Atlanta Braves baseball team. Old school, he’s not one to use computer programs to figure out if a young player can make it in the major leagues. Gus doesn’t even own a computer.
“A computer can’t tell if a kid has instincts,” he gripes.
There’s pressure in the Braves office to cut Gus loose. Phillip Sanderson, the team’s arrogant, comparatively young associate director of scouting, believes in technology. Played by Matthew Lillard, an actor well-equipped for doing smug, Phillip does not believe in Gus.
Phillip has the Braves’ general manager’s ear, but Gus has a loyal supporter in Pete Klein, the team’s scouting director. John Goodman co-stars as the blandly written Pete.
“Gus can spot talent from an airplane!” Pete protests.
The latter pronouncement may have been true in the past. It’s not true now. Pete doesn’t know that Gus is experiencing vision problems.
Besides Gus’ looming loss of the job that is his identity, his life, the other storyline in Trouble with the Curve follows the old man’s thorny relationship with his daughter.
Amy Adams’ performance as Mickey, a 33-year-old attorney on the rise at a major Atlanta law firm, is one of the film’s home runs.
The most natural of actresses, Adams seamlessly assumes the role of a hardworking, ambitious attorney who’s being considered for a partnership.
Echoing her father’s situation at the Atlanta Braves, she, too, is the target of office politics. Her situation produces some sharp exchanges that boost the film’s dramatic score.
Likewise Mickey’s reaction to Pete’s plea that she accompany her father on a scouting trip that, should it go badly, will halt his baseball career.
“Don’t try to manipulate me!” she tells Pete. “I’m an attorney. That’s my job!”
Trouble with the Curve is a mostly intimate drama, its well-done centerpiece being Gus and Mickey. Nevertheless, one of Gus’ rival scouts enters their lives. Pop singer and actor Justin Timberlake co-stars as Johnny Flanagan, another one of the film’s good casting picks.
But Trouble with the Curve isn’t quite one of those sports movies that inspires audiences to stand up and cheer. It’s too quiet, interior for that. The story also rushes during its predictable finale. Yet the challenges Gus and Mickey face, as well as Eastwood and Adams’ well-gauged performances, make it a game worth watching.
Copyright © 2011, Capital City Press LLC • 7290 Bluebonnet Blvd., Baton Rouge, LA 70810 • All Rights Reserved