Release Date: September 21, 2012
Rating: PG-13 for language, sexual references, some thematic material and smoking
Run Time: 111 min.
Director: Robert Lorenz
Actors: Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake, Robert Patrick, John Goodman, Matthew Lillard
Trouble With the Curve, the new film starring Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby), goes several innings without committing an error, but neither does it connect with the ball. Like a veteran team playing a late season game without much on the line, Curve is watchable but rarely exciting. Its star players—Eastwood, along with Amy Adams (Julie & Julia) and Justin Timberlake (The Social Network)—put in reliable performances, with Adams having a few shining moments. Still, the film's story doesn't throw much of a breaking ball until late. When it comes, it’s not particularly artful, but it gives the movie an extra dimension that invests everything that precedes it with a bit more nuance and thoughtfulness.
Gus (Eastwood) is a baseball scout, the type maligned in last year’s Moneyball but viewed as the key to successful teams. But Gus isn’t just any type of scout. He's from the old school, the one that watches players up close and doesn’t rely on computer stats in evaluating a player’s potential. The film’s on-the-nose script by Randy Brown tells us that "good scouts are the heart of this game," then tells us again, then repeats the notion in case you missed it the first couple of times.
But good eyesight is basic to good scouting, and Gus's eyes are failing. His boss (John Goodman, The Artist) knows something’s wrong but can't get Gus to come clean. So he enlists Gus's daughter, Mickey (Adams), to accompany her dad on a scouting trip for a coveted player. The father-daughter dynamic between Gus and Mickey is strained, the result of Gus leaving her with relatives when she was young. The sense of abandonment lingers in Mickey’s life, who, at age 33, spends every Saturday at her law firm, where she’s gunning for a partnership.
What Gus knows—and what Mickey can’t remember—is the reason why Gus decided he wasn’t up to the job of being a full-time dad to Mickey. That detail lends poignancy to Trouble With the Curve that is lacking until that point, which, beyond the interaction between dad and daughter, fails to create anything other the most obvious character interplay. A romance between Mickey and failed-ballplayer-turned-scout named Johnny (Timberlake) feels rote rather than genuinely romantic, and Gus's young rival (Matthew Lillard, The Descendants) is so contemptible that we’re never permitted to feel anything else for him. Such characterizations provide easy emotional payoffs—we all know the comeuppance of the overconfident scout will be part of the film's finale—but we expect more emotional shadings from an awards-season drama starring Oscar-caliber actors.
Does that mean the film is a failure? No. Although Gus is one-dimensional, fans of Eastwood should leave sated. The actor hasn’t starred in a film since 2008’s Gran Torino, but his screen presence remains as sturdy as ever. He’s using his advancing years to portray characters in the twilight of their lives, grappling with the diminution of skills and talents that become apparent with old age. Gus is well suited to Eastwood’s screen persona, which requires the timely delivery of few words (although Gus's character tic of grunting pales in comparison’s to Tom Hardy’s similar character tic in the recent Lawless).
Better is Adams, who brings spunk and spitfire to the role of Mickey, wounded in childhood by events she still hasn’t fully processed and could never understand. Her rapprochement with her father is warm and effective, but getting to that point requires patience.
Trouble With the Curve is a game whose outcome seems like a foregone conclusion from the beginning. The players will deliver as expected, maybe even spark to life for a few plays, but the final score won’t be much of a surprise. Although nothing in the film is risible enough to generate walkouts, it offers little to keep us glued to our seats. When, late in the film, a character says, "Don’t be afraid to walk away," viewers might wonder if the advice is directed toward them.
- Language/Profanity: Lord’s name taken in vain numerous times; several uses of foul language; “hell”; the “F”-word; reference to male sex organ
- Alcohol/Smoking/Drugs: A spectator drinks and yells at players on the field; several scenes at a bar include drinking and smoking; some additional scenes of smoking; Gus drinks beer with his pizza and pours beer in a glass at his wife’s grave
- Sex/Nudity: A man urinates; a young player tells his teammates he plans to have sex with many women after he’s recruited; crude “your momma” jokes; Gus knocks on Mickey’s door and asks if she has a man in her room; Johnny strips to his underwear before going for a swim, and Mickey removes her pants but leaves her underwear and top on
- Violence/Crime: Gus attacks a man who’s coming on to his daughter; a car accident; a man is beaten and strangled
- Marriage/Religion: Gus is a widower; Mickey says she takes yoga, which her father describes as “voodoo”; she jokes that she’s going to get “666” tattooed on her forehead
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