There are mainstream films that surprise you, delight you and find fresh perspectives on tired storylines, and then there are those that fail to throw off the shackles of cliche sentimentality. Trouble With The Curve falls into the latter category. There’s nothing new, nothing completely unexpected and yet the film is an enjoyable experience.
The main problem is the paper-thin narrative that uses all the cliches in the sports-movie book. An ageing baseball scout Gus Lobel (Clint Eastwood playing yet another cantankerous old man with a soft, well-concealed centre) is slowly losing his vision and goes on a road-trip for what could be his final recruiting job. Accompanying him (on the appeal of his boss and best friend, Pete – John Goodman in a solid albeit ultimately underused performance) is Gus’ estranged daughter Mickey (Amy Adams in another wonderfully appealing role) who is a 33 year old laywer on the fast-track to being a partner (and the only woman) at her firm. She leaves in the middle of preparing for an important case at her firm because she sees that her father needs some help. Justin Timberlake plays Jonny ‘The Flame’ Flannagan, a former recruit of Gus’, who after blowing out his arm is also a scout with the hope of being a baseball commentator. Joe Massingill is Bo Gentry, the supremely arrogant and downright obnoxious young man being scouted by both, a hot-shot big hitter you just know is going to get his comeuppance in some form by the end of the film. Same goes for Matthew Lillard who rounds off the cast as the main antagonistic jackass element. His character Phillip swears by computers and statistics and doesnt believe in Gus’ old-school scouting values of instinct, actual on-field observation and analysis.
But there’s plenty in the film that’s enjoyable. The first-time director, Robert Lorenz does a smart job in focussing on the character interactions rather than trying to race the narrative along. It’s a much discussed fact that it’s Clint Eastwood’s first film since In The Line of Fire (1993) in which he acts but doesnt direct. But Lorenz is no stranger to the octogenarian having helped produce 12 of his last films, and being the second-unit director on others.
And here it’s the duo of Eastwood and Adams who form the heart of this film with great performances. Eastwood plays another variation of the character he’s played in the last few films but he does it well and with enough heart and grit. Amy Adams in particular ends up being the star and focal point instead of her father, making a fairly routine character into a vibrant and endearing one. There is plenty of unspoken emotional baggage and unresolved hurt between the two as well as a natural onscreen understanding, giving their one-on-one repartees more weight. Timberlake transforms a one-note character into someone who livens up the otherwise fairly sombre tone of the film and there is cute, genuine affection between him and Adams that makes their flirtation fun and likeable. However as a former player whose promising career was cut short by injury, I would have loved for his character to have a certain depth and seriousness to make him more three-dimensional.
There are two important plot points revealed late on in the second half of the film which means there isn’t too much time to establish them, reach a conclusion that doesnt seem rushed and create the necessary impact. Another important story element gets surprisingly discarded along the way. And there’s also much likelihood that you (like me) will have picked up on a passing earlier scene with a niggling feeling that it’s going to be important later. In a story which is already well-worn and familiar, all these problems stand out and spoil the degree of satisfaction that might have been possible otherwise.
Trouble With The Curve is corny, sentimental, predictable and exactly the sort of cliche, feel-good film one would expect from a production like this. It may be the anti-Moneyball in terms of the values it proposes, but it has little of that film’s uniqueness and charm. The cinematography however is wonderfully serene, using a lot of the natural light and beauty of North Carolina. To be brutally honest, there have been much better films in this genre, but this one is rhankfully elevated from yet another cookie-cutter piece by a strong, competent cast of actors who make it a tale well-told, authentic and heartfelt for the most part.