Ever since Clint Eastwood spoke at the Republican National Convention this year the way people have written about him has changed fairly significantly; he’s gone from being at the tail end of his career to a washed up has-been in the span of several weeks, it seems, because he did what he’s always done in his career: buck convention. It’s interesting, at least, to see what politics can do to people’s perspectives on an entertainer. And for the first time in a while Eastwood is letting himself get a truly happy ending and someone else direct him in Trouble with the Curve.
It’s also the best film to cover the fringes of the game in a long time, the type of film people wanted Moneyball to be.
Eastwood plays Gus Lobel, a scout for the Atlanta Braves at the end of his career. He’s found a plethora of Hall of Fame talent the way you used to find talent in sport: with your eyes. In an era where sabremetrics have taken over good chunks of the baseball world in player evaluation, Gus hails from the old school where you needed to see a player and how he plays to determine his worth. But the one thing that’s always served him masterfully, his eyesight, is going away. Stubborn as he is, Lobel refuses to have it looked at until the final prospect of this year’s draft is done. And he’s not the only one thinking that “final” might be the most descriptive; a young computer jockey (Matthew Lillard) who loves the game but doesn’t watch anything but the numbers wants him gone because of his inability to get with the times.
As he scouts what is being billed as the next Albert Pujols, Lobel and his failing vision are joined by his daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) at the behest of his friend (and co-worker) Pete (John Goodman) on this last trip. She’s a workaholic attorney trying to find a middle ground in a contentious relationship with her father over the years. Throwing a monkey wrench into the equation is former prospect turned scout Johnny Flanagan (Justin Timberlake), who has a much friendlier relationship with Gus than his daughter does.
It’s odd to see Eastwood in a film like this as of late; he’s gone after much darker in recent vintage and appearing in a crowd-pleaser is an odd choice for him, especially considering his last work in Gran Torino was considered the nearly perfect denouement for his acting career. He can play Gus in his sleep, as he’s a cranky old man in the vein of nearly every character he’s played since he’s turned 70 or so, but the volume is turned down. He’s not as curmudgeonly as he could be; he’s just a bit aloof with a mean streak in comparison to Gran Torino’s Walt. Gus doesn’t want to admit that he has weakness and it has clearly affected his relationship with his daughter. She just wants something normal with him in her lifetime after a childhood spent away, living to try to please him, and she uproots from a pivotal case in their native Atlanta to follow him on the road as he looks at a high school prospect.
It’s an interesting dynamic as Robert Lorenz takes essentially the Eastwood style of story-telling, which he learned by being his production partner for nearly 20 years, and gives it a slight variant. Eastwood has gone darker as of late in many films and Lorenz takes the way Eastwood directs for a more crowd-pleasing bent. If you didn’t know Eastwood just acted in the film you’d have thought he directed it as well; Lorenz apes Eastwood’s shooting style and lets the camera linger in much the same way Eastwood does. It’s not surprising, considering he essentially had an apprenticeship next to the multiple-time Oscar winning writer/director/producer/actor, but it’s still an interesting choice.
The film lives and dies on the chemistry between Adams and Eastwood; Adams is a bit young to be playing his daughter, of course, but without a strong chemistry between the two the film would sink. They don’t have the best of chemistry on occasion but that owes to the more prickly relationship between the two; we may not believe Adams would be his daughter (his granddaughter would be more appropriate) but we can buy their relationship. It’s a matter of trying to find a relationship after years of actively avoiding one; Mickey wants desperately for something out of Gus besides their mutual love of baseball and Gus doesn’t know how. If the film had been just about their relationship it would be tighter but not nearly as cinematic.
The other half of Curve is Gus trying to show that his ability to see a prospect play, as opposed to look at his numbers, is still there. The film’s pivotal moment in the third act is a direct repudiation of Moneyball and the likes, of course, and anyone who is knowledgeable about the sport would tell you that somewhere in the middle of stats and eyesight lies the truth about the game.
The film, however, can’t find a balance between Gus’s career and his family. It’s too hard trying to fit into a 90 minute window; one imagines that a film like this could’ve used another 30 minutes to smooth things out.
Director: Robert Lorenz
Writer: Randy Brown
Notable Cast: Clint Eastwood, Justin Timberlake, Amy Adams, John Goodman, Matthew Lillard, Robert Patrick, Scott Eastwood