Release Date: September 21st, 2012 (US); November 30th, 2012 (UK)
Genre: Drama; Sport
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake
Whereas Bennett Miller’s Moneyball laid out the intricacies of baseball and created an engrossing film about the sport for people who don’t know the sport, Trouble with the Curve sees baseball solely as a starting point; as the spark that will go on to ignite a splendid tale of relationships, trust and stubbornness. The cast is excellent and each bring something different to the field, but it’s simplicity that allows Trouble with the Curve to thrive. The low-key approach is very laissez-faire, almost as if the film isn’t striving to make that home-run. Only, it just about gets there anyway.
Gus Lobel (Clint Eastwood) is an elderly scout who has plied his trade at the Atlanta Braves for decades. He has devoted his life to baseball and Gus’ ageing mind is always wandering in search for the next bat. Eyes failing him (a scout’s nightmare) and given one final chance to unearth a diamond, Gus finds himself on the road with his daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) whose success in law suggests more than just strength and independence, as it instead covers up the cracks dealt in a life without her father.
Not an awful lot happens in Trouble with the Curve, but it’s exactly that deficiency in over-doing things that gives the film its mellow charm and warmth. Having its toes dipped in the sports genre, a danger certainly exists where the attraction of glorifying situations and entering an all-too-familiar schmaltz territory is never far off, but director Robert Lorenz ensures sappiness is kept to an absolute minimum, meaning that when it does rear its mushy head, you are obliged to forgive. In a film about overcoming obstacles, it’s definitely more fitting to have some puddles of slush rather than sheets of uncompromising ice.
At the heart of the film are two performances, both of which provide the elevation needed for Trouble with the Curve to stand out from the pack. Clint Eastwood is gravelly, rustic, abrasive, croaky and a whole manner of other blemishes associated with an elderly man who has seen his best years, and who probably wont see much more of the sport he loves and lives. Gus Lobel’s colleagues are often seen exclaiming, “He may be ready for pasture,” “Game’s changed,” and “New blood”, and although he doesn’t hear these put-downs in the open, Eastwood’s defiant yet deep-down defeated demeanour tells you all you need to know about his character’s own perception of a bleak future.
Along, then, comes the simply delightful Amy Adams, who bursts with soul as she injects life into both Eastwood and the film. Although a cagey lawyer-type in the beginning, her relationship with Eastwood develops into an absorbing one: sometimes sad, sometimes funny, but always worth its weight in screen time. Gus and Mickey are far too stubborn to admit defeat (in their eyes, at least) and the film plays with this idea of withholding from loved ones until it might be too late. Mickey is always coiled up in work; her aspirations of getting a promotion in an industry she only entered to please her father are shallow, as he is never there to see her thrive anyway (“Everything’s okay as long we don’t talk”). Gus is distant, embroiled in baseball and relentlessly stutters when attempting to unveil feelings and sentiment towards his daughter. Justin Timberlake portrays former player Johnny Flanagan, someone who was apprehensive in the past about discussing the arm injury that prematurely ended his playing career. Timberlake deserves recognition for his charismatic contribution too, and together the three actors develop brilliant chemistry which ultimately drives the film and sharpens its principals.
In its lack of narrative extravagance, Trouble with the Curve does run the risk of inducing monotony, however the aforementioned engaging characters should be enough to guide you through until the end. Although not as funny as other road-trip films (which it essentially is) there are undoubtedly moments of comedy, a handful of which tread the black humour realm. This is Eastwood’s first non-self-directed acting expedition since a Casper cameo in 1995, and one or two playful sniggers towards age and losing touch with reality are on show — the whole ‘loss of sight’ element might even be a nod towards Eastwood’s real life front-of-camera career wind down.
It is all about the people involved, and thankfully the people involved are excellent company — there are even fun roles for Matthew Lillard and John Goodman, who has been pried from the Coen Brothers’ grip in order to film this. Purity is pivotal throughout Trouble with the Curve; heck, maybe a riskier, more diverse plot would’ve offered surprise and ingenuity. That’s wishful thinking though and, to be honest, probably a disservice to the brilliant effort on show from those involved.
Anyway, it is breakfast time… where’s my pizza?