Clint Eastwood’s latest effort to portray an irascible old man is a success in Trouble with the Curve
, a character study in which Eastwood plays ailing baseball scout Gus Lobel. Lobel is a longtime, old-school scout for the Atlanta Braves responsible for drafting and signing many of the Braves greats of the 80s and 90s.
New leadership in the Braves’ organization threatens Lobel’s livelihood as the team looks to move to a statistically-based Moneyball-type of scouting system rather than the traditional method of scouting players in person to get a feel for their ability. To add to Gus’ problems, a visit to the doctor uncovers a problem with his vision, macular degeneration, that also compounds his career troubles.
Gus is sent to the Carolinas to evaluate a high school phenom to determine if he is worth a first round draft pick by Atlanta. While the statisticians in the front office already have their ideas, Gus has to see the kid to believe that he is of first round quality.
His longtime boss and chief of scouting Pete Klein, portrayed by John Goodman, wants Gus to hit a home run with the pick. When he accidentally discovers Gus’ deteriorating eyesight, he realizes that his friend is in even more trouble than he thought. He quickly contacts Gus’ estranged daughter Mickey (named for Mickey Mantle), played by Amy Adams, and asks her to go to the Carolinas to check on her Dad. A high-powered attorney in the middle of a career-making case, Mickey begrudgingly agrees to go check on her father, though she is uncertain as to why.
Gus clearly struggles to determine the ability of the high school star. He reconnects with Johnny (Justin Timberlake), a former phenom pitcher himself that Gus signed years before. Johnny is now a scout for the Red Sox who just happen to have the pick just ahead of Atlanta. The two renew their friendship and when Gus’ daughter Mickey shows up, the sparks begin to fly--between Gus and Mickey as well as between Johnny and Mickey.
The movie has all the right ingredients -- solid performances by Eastwood, Goodman, Timberlake and Adams, a touching story and an interesting finish. What it lacks is depth in character development by first-time screenwriter Randy Brown. Brown’s characters are interesting to a degree, as is the plot of the film, but it is difficult to understand their motivation. At 111 minutes, director Robert Lorenz certainly gives Brown time to flesh out his characters, but something gets lost along the way. The characters come off a bit two-dimensional and shallow.
There is enough in Trouble with the Curve to take a swing at, though. It is certainly worth two hours just to watch a grizzled veteran like Eastwood work one more time. And while the characters may somewhat lacking, they are likable enough to be entertaining. - Mike Gallien