|A Hollywood icon takes a swing at America’s pastime in “Trouble With the Curve,” a cross-generational crowd-pleaser about an elderly professional baseball scout who strikes out when it comes to relating to his now-grown-up daughter.
Gus Lobel (Clint Eastwood), who’s been one of the game’s top scouts for decades. But time has taken its toll.
These days, grumpy widower Gus has trouble seeing, has trouble peeing, and can’t park his car without banging into something. The Atlanta Braves, who’ve signed a parade of star players on his advice over the years, wonder if they should put their faith in him once more, or put him out to pasture.
Gus’ daughter, Mickey (named after Mickey Mantle, her dad’s idol), is now a successful Atlanta attorney, played by Amy Adams. Mickey grew up around locker-room talk and baseball fields, but – for reasons we find out about later – can’t get her dad to join her on any meaningful strolls down memory lane.
Just before he’s sent to North Carolina to scout a hotshot high-school slugger at the end of the season, Gus gets some unwanted news from his eye doctor. Concerned that her dad can’t see well enough to do his job, much less drive, Mickey postpones work on an important legal case to join him one more time in the small-town bleachers.
There they run into one of Gus’ old scouting recruits, Johnny Flanagan (Justin Timberlake), a former MLB pitcher now a scout himself for the rival Boston Red Sox. Johnny’s there to check out the same player as Gus, a pompous home-run belter who’s practically already packing for his spot in the major leagues – but who, as it turns out, has a bit of difficulty getting his bat around on one particular kind of pitch.
It’s just a matter of time, of course, before Johnny’s also checking out Mickey.
How many more movies will Eastwood, now 82, make? Probably not many. Like Gus Lobel, he knows that times change and torches have to be passed.
And you can sense a torch being passed here. The first movie since 1993 in which he’s starred but not directed, “Trouble With the Curve” finds Eastwood relinquishing the decisions behind the camera to his protégé, Robert Lorenz, here making his directorial debut after serving for nearly 20 years as the assistant director for practically every other film Eastwood made during that span.
But the movie nonetheless bears a lot of Eastwood’s straightforward, clear-headed filmmaking mojo. And the small group of “veteran” scouts from other ball clubs with whom Gus hangs, who usually end up chatting about classic movies, is a nice, almost “inside” touch, perhaps even a salute.
The cast also includes the dependable John Goodman as Gus’ old friend and supporter in the Atlanta Braves organization, and Eastwood’s own actor son, Scott, as a Braves player in a bit of a slump.
The movie will particularly resonate with viewers who can relate to watching an aging parent deal with the infirmities of the advancing years, but not wanting to “become a burden” to their adult children. In that regard, it’s tender, touching, moving and often funny, and the scenes between Adams and Eastwood have an honest, been-there, lived-in feel.
Last year’s brilliant, brainy “Moneyball” may have scored first on the topic of gut instincts versus statistics. But on practically every other pitch, for baseball fans and especially Clint Eastwood fans, “Trouble With the Curve” repeatedly hits the sweet spot, right there where every batter wants it, and sends that ball sailing.