This ode to the old-school world of baseball scouting arrives almost as though in response to last year’s metrics-based baseball picture Moneyball. Trouble With the Curve, this autumn’s boys-of-summer movie, is a testament to the traditional methods of analyzing a player’s game – through observation and instinct rather than computer figures and statistical evaluations. It’s a world practically tailor-made for Clint Eastwood, whose onscreen persona these days has settled into that of a gruff, elderly curmudgeon. Playing Gus Lobel, a longtime scout for the Atlanta Braves, you can almost imagine Eastwood standing on the diamond and snarling at the whippersnappers, “Get off of my ball field,” in a paraphrase of the line made famous by the curmudgeon he played in Gran Torino. Instead Gus derides the “interweb” and settles for more blandly stereotypical old-codger retorts and raspy grunts.
Truth be told, Gus’ contract is soon up for renewal and the guys in the front office (Matthew Lillard and Robert Patrick) want to put him out to pasture. The film’s introductory scenes establish that Gus’ eyesight has fallen prey to macular degeneration and his prostate to the indignities of old age, although Gus has, so far, been able to keep these secrets to himself. When he is sent to North Carolina to scout a young pitcher, his last true friend in the Braves organization (John Goodman) encourages Gus’ daughter, Mickey (Amy Adams), to accompany her father. Mickey – an Atlanta attorney gunning to make partner in her firm – has a troubled relationship with her father, who became a single parent to his daughter when she was quite young. Mickey still harbors a lot of abandonment issues, though still clearly revels in the father/daughter time they spent in the bleachers of minor-league ball fields throughout her childhood. In North Carolina, they run into Johnny (Justin Timberlake), a former player who had been discovered by Gus but blew out his arm and became a scout for the Boston Red Sox. Johnny takes an instant shine to Mickey, although she takes a little longer to come around. Ostensibly, Mickey is there to assist her dad, but first she has some long-simmering issues to work out.
Despite its love of baseball lore, Trouble With the Curve is really a melodrama about the reconciliation of a father and daughter. Adams is absolutely winning in this role, which requires her to be a tough-as-nails attorney, grownup tomboy, and psychologically scarred adult. And she makes a good foil for Eastwood, though it’s often uncomfortable to see the actor going through melodramatic paces, reliving past traumas, and reciting song lyrics at his wife’s grave. Is there room within that gravelly persona for a character who’s in touch with his feelings and physical limitations? This is one of the few films in recent years that Eastwood stars in but did not direct. At the helm is one of his longtime associates Robert Lorenz, who replicates Eastwood’s proficient visual style but adds little of his own to the limited scope of first-time screenwriter Randy Brown’s story. Many are the film’s hackneyed scenes, although Eastwood and Adams always make them at least enjoyable to watch. Trouble With the Curve doesn’t hit the ball out of the park, but neither is it a compete shutout.