My experience with the legendary Clint Eastwood hasn't been because I grew up watching Sergei Leone films, or the Dirty Harry series. Rather, it's been his efforts behind the camera that I have come to know and admire the 83 year-old. I think it's safe to assume most fans will recognize him for his signature growl and his tough, take no nonsense persona in front of the camera; but I recognize him for his soulful and haunting directorial efforts behind the camera, from Mystic River, to Letters from Iwo Jima. So when I found out he did a baseball-related sports film, I just had to check it out.
On the surface, the plot is very familiar of Eastwood's late body of work as an actor: he plays Gus Lobel, a scouting legend for the Atlanta Braves. He's a man on his last legs with the organization, who brings in a modern seeker of talent in Phillip (Matthew Lillard) because Gus is refuses to adapt to the changes within the game (in other words: he thinks sabermetrics and new-age stats are BS and he relies on his instincts) . His friend and boss Pete (John Goodman) still sees him as a valuable asset to the clubhouse, so he contacts his estranged daughter, Mickey (Amy Adams), a workaholic partner pursuing a partnership at a firm, realizing that Gus isn't being straightforward about his health. She reluctantly agrees to help out her dad and joins him in North Carolina to scout on a hot-hitting prospect. Along the way he runs into a player he once scouted, Johnny (Justin Timberlake) who is now doing scout-work for the Boston Red Sox, who is looking to do booth-work calling baseball games, and attempting to date his daughter. Mickey sees this trip as a way to reconnect with her distant father, but Gus wants her back to Atlanta and far away from him as possible, causing painful demons of his past to sever whatever thread he and Mickey share completely.
Now, I said this kind of performance rings familiar with Eastwood's late body of work when starring as the lead role: the cantankerous, grizzled, tested veteran; a no-nonsense guy who goes by his instincts and the old ways of training up-and-comers, hot-shots, and the lot. Basically, he represents the Old Guard, and a way do doing things that has all-but disappeared in front of his eyes. Eastwood's Gus is no exception: He maybe losing a step, but he isn't looking for sympathy for his troubles. He's a world-weary hard-ass who loves his beer, a glass of scotch, his cigar and his job. He can still spot a bust and the real thing based on his swing and how he handles a good ol' fashioned curveball better than what new-age statistics tells him, and he wants to go out on his own terms. When I see Gus, I see the old, cankerous boxing trainer Frankie Dunn, growling at the young, feisty Maggie Fitzgerald that, "Girly tough ain't enough." I see the weary, bigoted Korean war veteran Walt Kowalski, M1 rifle in hand, telling a bunch of neighborhood gang-bangers to get off his lawn. Basically, he's a man riddled with regret and a few demons that have yet to be resolved, but refuses to throw a pity party because of them. That type of weary character works for an actor like Clint because he perfectly captures the nuances and inner turmoil in each person so well, that he wears it like a second skin, and it gives said character more emotional depth and resonates with the audience. Like those performances in those films, he nails his character in Trouble with the Curve.
The problem with this film is that, beyond the surface, there isn't much which resonates with the audience. There is usually an important reveal in an Eastwood film (and this film is no exception), usually on an emotional level or on a logical level which helps explain why the characters act as they do, or, in a flash reveals the main theme of the film, but the reasoning for Gus's hesitance toward his daughter being around him is surprisingly weak. The reveal doesn't grip you like the relationship between Frankie and Maggie in Million Dollar Baby, or the extent of the damaged lives of Jimmy, Sean and Dave in Mystic River. The rapport between Eastwood and Adams works fine, but the quieter moments, when we should feel the conflict between these two, it just doesn't resonate. Then I came to a realization when I finished this film: Clint Eastwood didn't direct the film. That job was left to his longtime collaborator-producer Robert Lorenz. In an instant, besides borrowing Eddy's arrogant nature from Bull Durham (the hot prospect from North Carolina is a complete dick, but, unlike the latter character, this kid doesn't mature over time and begins to learn to appreciate the position he's in; rather, he's a straight-up jerk the whole way through) and the mostly untested walk on who proves to be a diamond in the rough like in The Rookie, Invincible and Rookie of the Year, and the fact that the script, written by Randy Brown, besides having Eastwood delve into the nuances of throwing a pitch, or how he can hear how a batter swings at pitches, just feels like a chore to sit through because of the predictability of the story, it's the blatant fact that Lorenz was trying his best to mimic a Clint Eastwood film, rather that take his own approach and share his own vision of the film. I say mimic because the people who he usually works with, are on board: cinematographer Tom Stern, who's been collaborating on Clint's projects since 2002, and film editor Joel Cox, who's been with him since 1977's The Gauntlet. Even Malpaso Productions, Eastwood's production company was involved in the movie, along with Warner Bros. distributing.
I hate being blunt (especially when Eastwood is involved - there honestly isn't a whole lot I can say negatively against the man), but I have to say it: Trouble with the Curve is a second-rate version of an Eastwood movie, but severely lacking his touch when he's behind the camera. There's no sense that Lorenz or Brown were going to take us down darker paths to illuminate the motives behind the characters, and as a result, they play it safe and it becomes a tedious chore to watch. Even with Clint, Amy and Justin trying their collective best to lift the film through their interactions with each other other and their performances, the predictability and lack of emotional revelation just makes watching it an empty affair.
Again, here's a list of past baseball-related reviews, if you haven't already read them yet: