Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Film Review: Trouble With the Curve

Clint Eastwood is like a fine wine: he gets better with age. And I don't mean that he is as good as he was before. I think he's better.

I admit I am not a fan of his early stuff, the Spaghetti-Westerns and Dirty Harry's (please never tell the great John Nolte I ever said that!). I don't think that those movies are bad, but they just never grabbed me. It wasn't until I saw In the Line of Fire that I truly appreciated Eastwood's skill as an actor. But the older he gets, its as if the outer waxy layers are melting away to reveal the raw beating heart underneath.

That is how it is with Trouble with the Curve. Eastwood plays Gus, a talent scout for the Atlanta Braves. He's responsible for finding some of the best players in the game with the strength of his experience and instincts. But he is being pushed out by new members of management who point out that Gus “doesn't even know how to use a computer!” (gasp). Obviously the film is a kind of anti-Moneyball, targeted against those who think programs and computers gut the heart of the game. To make matters worse for Gus, his eyesight is going so he can't see the games completely. Only his estranged daughter Mickey (played by Amy Adams) can help him as she takes time off from her law firm where she needs to close a big case to be made partner. As the father/daughter scout a potential star player, they spend time with former player, now scout Johnny (Justin Timberlake).

There are no real surprises with Trouble with the Curve. It is a by-the-numbers family conflict drama. And a little too often the characters say what they are feeling, rather than letting it be revealed by action. With the exception of Gus and Mickey, all of the characters are pretty flat. They are designed to be plot devices. The slimy manager played by Matthew Lillard is designed to be hated. The player they are scouting, Bo Gentry (Joe Massingill) is a typical arrogant jock. The always good John Goodman brings some life to his role as Gus' boss and friend Pete, but there's not much to work with. And most of the acting is only average. Timberlake is not bad as the player who blew his shot, yet still trying to hang on to some of the game. But I can always tell that he's acting.

The exceptions here are Adams and Eastwood. Adams is one of those actresses that can flow easily between comedy and drama, which is helpful in this role that requires both. She also conveys a strong drive and intelligence without being off-putting. We immediately sympathize with her because she can't seem to get through to her father, no matter how hard she tries. Anyone who tries to connect to a parent without feeling like they succeeded can easily put themselves into Mickey's shoes. Adams is ideal in this role.

But most of the praise falls on Eastwood. He can get more laughs with a grunt than most comedians can with hours of jokes. He can elicit more tears from an audience because of the power we see in that haggard, stony face as it contorts from sorrow. Eastwood doesn't fight against his age. He uses it to his advantage. Eastwood has a charisma that is not created by a made up Hollywood exterior, but by the skill of an actor who knows how to use the tools of his craft any way he can.

Trouble with the Curve is not a perfect movie. But based on the audience reaction at the showing I went to, the flaws are easily forgiven. The movie is simple, sometimes syrupy.

But sometimes that's okay.

3 and ½ out of 5 stars

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