Film Reviews

Sinker Ball

There is a scene in last year's Moneyball in which Brad Pitt's Billy Beane is confronted by a long conference table of dreary-looking, uncomprehending, stick-in-the-mud veteran scouts. Trouble With the Curve, Clint Eastwood's first on-screen role in four years, is those scouts' revenge, casting the Sabermetrics nerds as nemeses. Eastwood plays Gus Lobel, an Atlanta Braves scout whose historic signings include Dusty Baker and Tom Glavine. As Trouble opens, Gus has been without a discovery for some time, is increasingly hindered by a wandering blurry spot in his vision and is being challenged in his old-school conventional wisdom by a younger front-office guy, Phil Sanderson (Matthew Lillard), who gets his intelligence from a laptop and wants to see analog Gus scrapped when his contract expires.

Phil is set on using the Braves' first draft pick on a high school slugger in North Carolina, and so Gus dutifully goes to Swannanoa High School to see if the kid can play. He is joined, against his will, by his daughter Mickey — as in Mantle — played by Amy Adams. On tense terms with her widower father since he banished her to boarding school, Mickey is today a fast-rising 33-year-old lawyer pursuing her career with the same single-mindedness with which Gus pursued his; her reaching out to act as her ailing father's helpmate is the last, best chance for either of them to make peace.

What a strange thing for an actor, when one has been rehearsing one's decline and death for so very long! Eastwood is 82 today; he was wasting away from TB as early as Honkytonk Man (1982), had officially entered his "I'm getting too old for this shit" magic hour with The Rookie (1990) and memorably fumbled getting back into the saddle in Unforgiven (1992). As in that, Eastwood's Gus communes with his wife's grave in Trouble.

There are things to admire here. It is the first baseball movie since The Bad News Bears to deal so explicitly with the less-discussed father-daughter sports bond. The gender-inversion adds something to the romantic plot as well: Appearing as Johnny Flanagan, an old signee of Gus' who has now taken to scouting, Justin Timberlake has a nice badinage with Adams — the running joke of his flip-the-script pickup is acting shy and girlish around her, as though fending off her overbearing pickup. Meanwhile, Mickey's boyfriend pitches her on an exclusive relationship: "If you look at it on paper, it makes perfect sense," says this Sabermetrician of romance, also a lawyer.

It goes without saying that what Gus has acquired of go-with-your-gut wisdom in baseball applies to life as well, a tautology that Trouble With the Curve takes to the point of absurdity. Swannanoa's hot prospect is one Bo Gentry, played by a beefy young actor named Joe Massingill. A braggart and a bully, Gentry is seen prematurely charging for autographs, licking his chops while looking ahead to "banging chicks" in the big leagues — for in Trouble's moral universe, an 18-year-old showing horniness is a sign of bad character. This is a canard, as is the film's supposition that there is a direct correlation between being a good man and a performing athlete, and all parties involved should know better.

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Nick Pinkerton
Contact: Nick Pinkerton