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Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012 01:18 am

A joy to see Eastwood in Trouble

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Clint Eastwod and Amy Adams in the baseball drama Trouble with the Curve.

If you’ve followed Clint Eastwood’s career behind the camera, you’ll find that he’s an intensely loyal collaborator. He works with the same crew from one picture to the next and you’d be hard-pressed to read anything negative about him as far as his film career is concerned. So, it comes as little surprise that he would agree to appear on screen for the first time in four years (2008’s Gran Torino) in the first directorial effort of one of his longtime collaborators, Robert Lorenz (Trouble with the Curve). As written by Randy Brown, there’s nothing unique about the movie. It deals with the troubled relationship between an aging baseball scout and his opinionated daughter. If this winds up being Eastwood’s last screen appearance, it’s hardly the swan song the icon deserves. Yet in the hands of the veteran cast Lorenz has assembled, Curve contains more than a few special moments that are worth seeing, despite a climax that throws logic out the window in order to expedite a happy ending.

Eastwood is Gus, a longtime scout for the Atlanta Braves who’s on the verge of professional extinction. Clinging to his old ways – actually going to ballgames and watching the players on the field while getting to know them and help them with their personal problems – his problems are mounting like those of a reliever who’s lost his fast ball. Not only is the young and cocky Phillip Sanderson (Matthew Lillard) – who evaluates players through box scores and statistics – gunning to get him fired, but also he finds that he’s going blind. Still, Gus is intent on going to scout a high school phenom, as he knows this is the sort of player the Braves can build around. What he doesn’t realize is that his boss and old friend Pete (John Goodman) has dispatched his estranged daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) to help him out on the road, an arrangement that results in old wounds being reopened as the two try to come to terms with their tattered relationship.

Myriad other films come to mind while watching this, chief among them On Golden Pond, as Gus reluctantly gets pulled back into the past by a daughter who wants some answers for why he sent her to live with her aunt and uncle after her mother died. Brown brings nothing new to this table, but the skill of Eastwood and Adams save the day. They convincingly tear each other apart on the road to reconciliation. Also, it’s impossible not to consider this a direct rebuke to Moneyball as Sanderson, who comes off as a buffoon, represents the modern approach of player evaluation as embraced by Billy Beane. Gus and his cohorts represent a defense of veteran scouts whose experience and insight gathered over decades provides an instinctual knowledge that simply reading numbers can’t match.

While the script is a rote exercise, it’s fun to watch the assembled cast at play. You believe that Adams could be Eastwood’s daughter. She brings the strength she displayed in The Fighter to this film in a more refined form. She gives as good as she gets here, a real pistol who doesn’t let her dad get away with anything. Justin Timberlake, a rival scout and Adams’ love interest, fares less well. He seems a bit forced throughout, never really at ease in the skin of his character and always seems to be acting on his first obvious instinct rather than pulling back and giving a more nuanced performance. As for Eastwood…well, what can you say? The actor, who has effortlessly segued into lovable curmudgeon roles, is a hoot. Exasperated yet well-meaning, the part is right in the actor’s wheelhouse. While it hardly makes him sweat, it’s good to see him in front of the camera once more, reminding us that no one has or will cut a figure as he does on the screen.

The film stumbles badly during its last 15 minutes. I’d be hard-pressed to recall a movie that goes so far out of its way to wrap up every plot thread with a nice pink bow in order to deliver a happy ending, all the while forgetting the movie’s main problem (Gus, weren’t you going blind?). Baseball fans everywhere will be chuckling at the ridiculous turns the story takes during the climax, but in the end, it doesn’t matter. We get to see Crotchety Clint in action once more and really, isn’t that why viewers will be laying their money down for this one?

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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