The new Clint Eastwood film Trouble with the Curve is much, much more than a baseball movie. It is really a character story with a baseball backdrop, much like the well-done book/film, Moneyball. In Trouble with the Curve an ailing baseball scout, Gus Lobel (Clint Eastwood), is in his twilight years and living a hum-drum life. Through pressure from his boss in Atlanta Gus takes his daughter along for one last scouting trip to see a possible first round draft pick play high school ball before the upcoming Major League Draft.
Gus is an elderly scout for the Atlanta Braves, which was a real hoot for me as a life-long Braves fan. Gus is becoming increasingly frail and ill-equipped, particularly with his deteriorating eyesight. But baseball is all Gus knows and cares about. The Braves are losing faith in Gus’s abilities. Modern baseball is more connected with computer predictions and online statistics than ever thus scouts physically sitting in the stands and watching talent in person is increasingly becoming a lost art. Gus hates computers! He believes that nothing can replace seeing (and hearing) a baseball player in person. (You’ll understand the “hearing” reference if you see the film.)
Gus’s close friend Pete (John Goodman) is trying to persuade the Braves that despite Gus’s poor eyesight he is still an invaluable asset and needs to stay in their organization. But a young up-and-coming front office guy thinks Gus is a dinosaur and wants him gone. To help Gus do his job Pete recruits Gus’s daughter, Mickey (Amy Adams). Her job is to assist him in scouting a young home-run hitting prodigy. We learn that Mickey’s mother died when she was only six and shortly thereafter Gus sent her to live with relatives whom she barely knew. She has never gotten over this change in her life. During this dramatic scouting trip (which is about 70% of the running time of the film), Mickey winds up meeting one of Gus’s friends whom he used to scout back in the day, a guy named Johnny “The Flame” Flanagan (Justin Timberlake). Johnny once threw a one-hundred mile-an-hour fastball before he threw his arm out. You can see where this is all headed without a lot of imaginative skill. Yet it remains captivating.
The film is totally predictable but that is not a problem. What makes it work so well is the warmth and well-developed character studies. One reviewer says that what we have here is “three of 2012’s most interesting characters.” I concur with his analysis after enjoying this beautiful film the weekend it was released. Eastwood again plays a character who is a racist. He perfected this role in what I think was his best film, Gran Torino. In spite of these racist qualities, and his down on life attitude, Gus comes off as likable. Amy Adams is at her best. She is a likable and gifted young actress, often unnoticed by Hollywood critics. Here she plays Emily Blunt, a young attorney searching for answers and meaning, which her father cannot seem to give to her. As Johnny, Justin Timberlake continues to show dramatic versatility as a charming character who wins you over by the end.
As I noted earlier screenwriter Aaron Sorkin may have started a new trend with sports films. This trend began with Moneyball. Sorokin centers his story in a baseball context but in both films the real story is not about baseball. (Having said this baseball fans should love this film and will understand nuances missed by non-fans!) The agenda in Trouble with the Curve is to show the business of baseball while revealing the more interesting story of a father and daughter reconnecting with the sport in the foreground. Both films do things rarely seen in baseball movies and both are well worth enjoying, baseball theme or not. I loved Trouble with the Curve. I forgot the clock, laughed a lot and even shed a tear at the very end. It was all rather predictable but totally enjoyable.