TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE, the latest Clint Eastwood movie, is as predictable as, well, any Hollywood movie could be. For one thing, the good guys and bad guys in the film are clear cut and, if you are accustomed to the typical “and-they-all-lived-happily-ever-after” Hollywood scenario, you can pretty much figure out where this film is headed.
But “predictable” is not necessarily synonymous with “bad,” and so I must admit that I enjoyed TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE tremendously. The fact that it is about baseball-- and I proudly describe myself as a diehard baseball fanatic-- has nothing whatsoever to do with my liking the film.
TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE features 82-year-old Eastwood as Gus Lobel, an aged (rather than aging) scout who toils for the Atlanta Braves and treks from small town ballpark to small town ballpark in search of baseball talent. Gus is crotchety, to be sure, as a number of other recent Clint Eastwood characters have been, but his mind remains sharp even as his eyesight is failing. To Gus, an artist is neither Rembrandt nor Picasso but a pitcher who can “paint the corners.” He is prideful of his ability to “spot talent from an airplane,” yet the mere sound of a ball coming off a bat will tell him all he needs to know about a hitter’s ability. Gus is, indeed, a true baseball lifer-- and a wonderful Clint Eastwood character.
One of the villains in TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE is Gus’s polar opposite: a surly new-breed scouting executive who is contemptuous of Gus and his instincts. He doesn’t see the purpose of going to a ballpark and observing a prospect, which is Gus’s way. All he needs is his computer and a handful of statistics. As the scenario plays itself out, you can bet that this character is proven to be oh, so wrong. A second heavy is a high school slugger who is being scouted by Gus. This egocentric jock bullies his teammates and, to his eventual regret, chides a fellow student by calling him “peanut boy” because he hawks peanuts in the stands.
Another character who plays a significant role is Mickey, Gus’s tough-minded daughter, who is played with spirit by Amy Adams. Mickey is a high-powered lawyer who is hoping to earn a partnership in her firm, even though she clearly knows her baseball and belongs by Gus’s side scouting talent. But there are long-simmering issues between father and daughter that need to be resolved.
Then there is Johnny, played by Justin Timberlake, a former hot pitching prospect who was signed by Gus but who blew out his arm after seeing limited time in the majors. Johnny now is scouting for the Boston Red Sox, and his presence makes for a convenient love interest for Mickey.
While TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE underscores the essential role that scouting plays in the process of sniffing out and evaluating wannabe ballplayers, it is old-school in its portrayal of its central character: a veteran scout who spurns stat sheets and computers as replacements for eyes, ears, and instincts. It clearly is a product of the Hollywood establishment in that it is a safe movie. It is not a daring, edgy movie.
And sometimes-- not all the time, mind you, but sometimes-- this is not a bad thing.
Rob Edelman teaches film history at the University at Albany. He has written several books on film and television, and is an associate editor of Leonard Maltin’s Movie and Video Guide.
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