Trouble With the Curve

If there’s one thing you can bank on with a Clint Eastwood film – it will be done with expertise and care. While Clint isn’t at the helm of this one called Trouble With the Curve, as he’s working only in front of the camera instead of both in front and behind it, the direction was handled professionally and competently by Eastwood’s long time producer and some times second unit director or first assistant director, Robert Lorenz. This is the first film for which Lorenz will receive the credit as Director.

The story is about Gus Lobel, a long time baseball scout. Lobel has been around the block more than a few times meaning he is getting on in years. As he describes himself in the film, he’s just a broken down old man. But Eastwood still has it. In addition to his trademark squints, and gravelly voice as he plays the cantankerous old baseball scout, you will be treated to a new piece of physical acting. This time it is the lip-quiver. That is his bottom lip and you’ll only see it just briefly. So watch for it.

Lobel has been asked to help the Atlanta Braves with their number one draft pick for that year, and he’s part of an entourage of professional scouts from other teams (with recognizable character actors)  that are looking over a highly regarded hot prospect, the high school slugger named Bo Gentry who has been wreaking havoc in a North Carolina High School conference.

But it’s not just about qualifying a prospect as a number one Draft pick and giving the kid a big contract. The scout’s job is to put the prospect under a magnifying glass and then make a judgement based upon the scout’s years of experience and baseball knowledge. Last year at this time we had a baseball movie called Moneyball – and that was about scouts’ judgements being set aside in favor of number crunching otherwise widely known as statistical analysis.

Trouble With the Curve is in the opposite camp than Moneyball. In this film, the scout’s best judgements are crucial. They follow the prospect game to game, hoping to discover and sign the next Mickey Mantle. With Eastwood’s Lobel – there’s an additional factor – Lobel has macular degeneration which is affecting his vision. In short, how can he make a judgement call on a prospect’s abilities if his vision is failing?

So we have an aging scout, and we have to be concerned about his vision. even if he isn’t. His contract is going to expire at the end of the baseball season. Lobel’s boss Pete Klein is the Director of Scouting and is played by John Goodman. Klein has been friends with Lobel for 30 years, and he has Gus’s back. Robert Patrick plays Vinnie, the GM of the Braves, and in his ear is Matthew Lillard as Philip Sanderson. He is the modernist, or the moneyball kind of guy – and he bases his judgement on stats. So the decision will come down to who’s judgement is the GM going to follow.

That part of the film is the baseball side. But the picture is stolen by Amy Adams who plays Lobel’s grown daughter Mickey – an attorney working for a big time firm in Atlanta who is hoping to be a former associate just made into a partner.

But as good as Mickey is about law – her real love is baseball. When Pete gives her a call to say he’s worried about Gus, Mickey decides to join Gus on the scouting jaunt (without asking him or telling him she’s on the way). There’s also some unresolved issues between father and daughter that need addressing.

So there’s your set up. Most of the film is shot in the green mountains of North Carolina with periodic scenes shot in cheap motels, greasy spoon diners, baseball fields, and sawdust-on-the-floor bars. It is easy to watch and looking at it is just fine. This isn’t a film about directorial flourishes or feats of fancy writing by the screenwriter (Randy Brown).

Instead this is a by-the-numbers, unsurprising story about relationships, baseball, and the pursuit of dreams. What is surprising is the simple fact that this film is very entertaining. Nothing about Eastwood, Adams, Goodman, Patrick, or even Justin Timberlake as a one-time hot prospect, signed by Gus, who himself is now a scout, is going to command any Oscar attention. The characters are realistically drawn and it is rather easy to figure out who to bet on in the film, meaning there’s no guesswork about the outcome.

But everyone should like this film. I’m hard-pressed to find anything to dislike about it. A film that is about baseball, that lacks a dramatic game winning/film ending homerun is a step away from what we get in most sports films. No championships, pennants, or World Series victories are on the line. Just because it isn’t a complex drama with hidden meanings, and philosophies that you have to ponder to understand the intent, doesn’t mean it won’t deliver an impact. What you get in Trouble With the Curve is a nice enjoyable way to spend 111 minutes.

My rating – four point zero with a recommendation.