I’m not sure how to recommend Trouble with the Curve to you, if at all. If you want an inspiring baseball movie — and one specifically about baseball scouts — you’re better off with last year’s Oscar darling Moneyball. If you want Justin Timberlake being earnest and sweet, check out Friends with Benefits. If you want a tough, hard-nosed Amy Adams, OK, she does a good job here. But if you want Clint Eastwood, arguably the movie’s biggest draw, playing his patented gruff old man dealing with age and the world overtaking him… well, he’s solid here, but it’s nothing like his performance in Gran Torino.
But the problem is, everything about Clint’s performance in Trouble with the Curve is tied up in Gran Torino. When promoting the movie in 2008, Eastwood surprised media outlets with his announcement that this would likely be his last film as an actor. “That will probably do it for me as far as acting is concerned,” he said at the time, while stressing that he was just as committed as ever to directing new projects. Of course, the “probably” gave him enough of a loophole that he could decide to come out of retirement for the right project. So when we found out that Trouble with the Curve was happening, we all assumed that it must be a truly excellent film to inspire Eastwood.
It’s fine, but nothing groundbreaking. Eastwood plays Gus Lobel, a grizzled, cranky baseball scout who’s allowed to keep at his job only because his instincts have won the Atlanta Braves several key players over the course of his career. But with his failing eyesight becoming a key obstacle and the business getting taken over by computers and statistics instead of good old-fashioned visits to baseball diamonds, Gus has one last chance to scout a hot new prospect in North Carolina. His boss and friend Pete (John Goodman) begs Gus’ daughter somewhat-estranged daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) to accompany him to the games, despite her abandonment issues with her dad. Along the way, they also run into his protege of sorts: Johnny (Justin Timberlake), a former pro pitcher-turned-scout who’s almost like Gus’ surrogate son because of how they bonded when Gus scouted him way back when.
Curve is painfully earnest, which is how I imagine many baseball movies end up being. Some parts, like Adams’ character being named after Mickey Mantle despite being a girl, seem too cutesy. And you can see the “curveball” of a twist coming from the first hint dropped (or should I say thrown?). There are a couple of key emotional scenes, like when Mickey tries to engage her father in a discussion about their issues in a diner, that have some depth, but they’re balanced about 50-50 with more contrived moments.
But Eastwood is fantastic. I’m just so impressed that this man who my generation knows to have been a rugged, dangerous sex symbol thanks to his Westerns, can now play a gruff old man and command the same attention and respect from moviegoers. Sure, some of his performance was amplified, but he never devolves into a caricature. For God’s sake, he starts off the movie by coaxing his penis into urinating, and it’s charming as hell! I was worried that after his bizarre speech at the RNC (and subsequent Eastwooding meme) that audiences would respect him less, but he was received warmly.
The thing is, it’s difficult to engage with Gus as a character when you’ve already seen Eastwood as Korean War veteran Walt Kowalski in Gran Torino. There’s no comparison in terms of complexity of character, and yet we can’t not put the two men side-by-side because we think that Gus must have been just as compelling as Walt. When he announced his “retirement” in 2008, Eastwood defended his decision by pointing out that no one wanted a lackluster performance. ”You always want to quit while you are ahead,” he said. “You don’t want to be like a fighter who stays too long in the ring until you’re not performing at your best.” But that seems to be what’s happened here.
It would seem, then, that what really got Eastwood to break his four-year retirement was Curve‘s director Robert Lorenz. The two are longtime collaborators, with Lorenz acting as Eastwood’s sidekick on films like Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby. This was Lorenz’s first movie helming as director, so it would appear that Eastwood felt that he could help his former mentee by attaching his name to the project in an on-screen capacity. Although as he explained to Movie Fanatic, it seemed to be Lorenz doing him a favor:
“After Grand Torino, I kinda thought that it’s kind of stupid to be doing both jobs (directing and acting) and I’ve only been doing it for forty-something years. I thought maybe I should just do one or the other. Just settle back into a little bit of a comfort zone. This was an opportunity for that. [Lorenz] stepped right in and just took over and I didn’t have to do anything… except watch Amy [Adams] throw the ball.”
So, take it as that, and don’t go looking for a Gran Torino sequel like we anticipated. Now, I’m using “sequel” kind of facetiously in this article because at the end of Gran Torino (spoilers!) Walt gets gunned down as the perfect way to fix everyone’s troubles, including his. So, the character of Gus and his issues are not the same as Walt. Maybe he could be compared to Walt in the beginning of Gran Torino, but his emotional payoff is nowhere near as shocking or satisfying.
Photos: Warner Bros.