Film Review: Trouble with the Curve

Elderly baseball scout turns to his daughter for help for an important draft tryout in a subdued Clint Eastwood vehicle.

Clint Eastwood returns to the screen for the first time since Gran Torino, playing another variation on his crotchety old guy persona. This time he's aging Atlanta Braves scout Gus Lobel, facing unemployment if he screws up an important tryout. Trouble with the Curve's easygoing baseball setting and low-key family dynamics will satisfy Eastwood's admirers, but they will most likely wait until it reaches home-video to see it.

The film starts out as a sort of reverse Moneyball, with Eastwood's agent fighting the front-office numbers guys with their computers. It's tempting to find a connection with the Malpaso production team defending its old-fashioned methods against newfangled 3D, digital competition.

But the heart of the film is the relationship between Gus and Mickey (Amy Adams), his career-driven attorney daughter. They are thrown together by old friend Pete Klein (John Goodman), who's worried about Lobel's erratic behavior. Flashbacks explain Mickey's sense of abandonment over the years, and fuel her ongoing resentment of her father. With her wary eyes and guarded demeanor, Adams really nails the hurt in her role, even if the script ultimately lets her down.

Hoping for a career as a broadcaster, washed-up Boston Red Sox pitcher Johnny Flanagan (Justin Timberlake) scouts Lobel's same prospect, in the process courting Mickey. Back in Atlanta, numbers-driven agent Philip Sanderson (Matthew Lillard) tries to poison Vince (Robert Patrick), a Braves owner, against Lobel. The story wraps up with two prospects fighting it out in Atlanta, an ending that will surprise anyone who's never seen a baseball movie.

This is the debut feature for Eastwood's longtime producing partner Robert Lorenz. Trouble with the Curve looks like typical Malpaso product: good cinematography, clean production design, efficient editing, laid-back acting. Lorenz doesn't take many stylistic chances, and tends to telegraph plot points, but he also tells the story clearly, without fuss.

It's also the feature debut for writer Randy Brown, whose screenplay raises worthwhile themes before settling into familiar family frictions, topped with a tepid romance. It would have been nice to learn more about the other prospects and scouts, for example. Or about Mickey's vague career as a lawyer. But the film is quite good at capturing the leisurely pace of high-school ball, with its small parks, lazy afternoons and amateur fans.

At 82, Eastwood is in the Walk, Don't Run stage of his career, playing Cupid for his younger co-stars. His voice shredded, his breath control uncertain, the actor tends to wave his hands a lot to make his points. He still has that unnerving glare, but he no longer commands the screen the way he once did. His filmmakers go out of their way to protect his image. In the process, Eastwood may have missed the opportunity to explore his character's faults and age more fully.

Whatever his personal life and politics entail, it's remarkable that Eastwood is still working at this level. Trouble with the Curve may make easy, sentimental choices, but it's an honest film about believably wounded characters who are struggling with their lives.