Review: Clint Eastwood’s The Trouble with the Curve

Faith-and-film author Edward McNulty is read in congregations nationwide. Today, we also are publishing his overview of Eastwood’s career. Here is his movie review of Eastwood’s latest film …

Review: Trouble with the Curve

By Edward McNulty

In a rare appearance in a film that he did not direct Clint Eastwood plays a grizzled character similar to his retired autoworker Walt Kowalski in Gran Torino. This time he is a vision-challenged baseball scout named Gus Lobel who is near the end of his career working for the Atlanta Braves. Long widowed, he has issues with his career-driven daughter Mickey, played by Amy Adams, who resents his sending her off to live with a relative when she was a little girl.

This is both a baseball and a father-daughter film, with Justin Timberlake thrown in (as Johnny, a young scout for the Red Sox) added for the sake of romance.

Eastwood has no empty chairs to talk to, but there is a coffee table in his living room that he stumbles over because of his poor vision. He curses it as if it were alive and actively blocking his path. And the script does call for the actor to talk to his gravestone and his penis, as well. Perhaps those scenes were in Eastwood’s mind when he stood on the stage at the Republican National Convention and saw the aide holding forth the now famous chair.

In Trouble with the Curve, Gus has just arisen from bed and, like so many men of his advanced age, finds it difficult to urinate first thing in the morning, hence his coaxing his appendage to perform. He keeps up his pleading until at last he gets relief. The gravestone marks his wife’s spot in the cemetery and reveals to us that she was just 39 when she died. That was some 28 years ago, but Gus still visits the site and converses with her, telling her how much he misses her. He haltingly sings what must have been a song they both enjoyed, “You Are My Sunshine.” Later, this song also becomes a connection point with his daughter Mickey.

Gus is of the old school of scouting, relying on sight, sound, and instincts sharpened by years of watching bush leaguers play in fields and small ball parks. His rival at the Atlanta home office believes that computers and their ability to analyze a player’s statistics offer more than Gus and his ilk can provide. Thus this film could be seen as a traditionalist’s answer to the film Moneyball.

Pete Klein (John Goodman), best friend of Gus and colleague at the Braves’ office, guards his friend’s back against those who want to put Gus out to pasture. Worried about how Gus has been behaving, Pete convinces Mickey to fly over to North Carolina where her father is scouting a hot new prospect. Although she is preparing for a big presentation that could lead to her becoming a partner at her law firm, she reluctantly agrees to go. Gus, of course, does not feel he needs any help, even though in several POV shots we see that his sight is deteriorating. His doctor has warned that he urgently needs to take a break and have an operation.

It is while following the talented slugger Bo Gentry (Joe Massingil) and his team The Grizzilies from small park to small park that we learn why Mickey and Gus have become so estranged.

Johnny, once an ace pitcher scouted and recruited by Gus, is also following Bo around as a hot prospect for his team. A victim of throwing too hard too often so that his shoulder and arm have given out, he aspires to move up from scouting to becoming a game announcer. He becomes as interested in Mickey as in Bo. What happens to the three of them is predictable, but great fun, all three thespians thoroughly convincing in their parts.

Bo Gentry, chubby but a great slugger, is headed for some kind of a comeuppance, we can guess because he is arrogant, basking in the glow of groupies who sense that he is headed for the majors. He enjoys signing autographs far too much, even though his fame reaches no further than the bush leagues. In one brief shot he yells at a vendor selling bags of peanuts in the stand, “Hey Peanut boy!” and the Hispanic young man (Jay Galloway) hurls a bag at him with the force of a cannon shot. With the sense of entitlement of a member of the superior class, Bo turns away without paying for them. Remember the young man’s face, as you will see it again in a satisfying climax to the film.  

Trouble with the Curve isn’t in the same league as The Natural or Bull Durham, but for first-time director Robert Lorenz, we might say that compared to their home runs, this film is at least a double, maybe even a triple. This is also scriptwriter Randy Brown’s first film, and he inserts numerous moments of humor. I won’t spoil the amusing scenes by describing them—but you will chuckle along the way.

In the end, it doesn’t matter that the basic plot is somewhat predictable (except maybe for a neat twist at the end). The film’s considerable pleasure lies is seeing a cast of excellent actors strut their stuff and make us care deeply about what happens to them. The audience at the screening I attended certainly felt this way, cheering at one point and applauding the film as the end credits rolled. I think you will too.

Once more an Eastwood film made my day. Just as Unforgiven made me forgive Clint Eastwood for the violence-affirming Dirty Harry, so this one helps erase from my mind the empty-chair vulgarity of the Tampa convention.

The movie is rated PG-13 and runs 1 hour 50 minutes.

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