Sometimes it takes a little poeticism to lift a baseball movie out of mediocrity. There’s a curve in a curveball pitch just as life throws us some curves; just as there’s a curve in a road we might cautiously navigate on a rainy day; just as there are curves in art and design, and life, often put there just to change things up a little. That’s what Clint Eastwood’s latest movie has going for it. Subtext and second-tier stories working on multiple levels within the movie making Trouble With The Curve more than just another baseball movie. And for Atlanta Braves fans it’s a little more special because it involves fictitious scouts and Braves management—John Goodman and Robert Patrick among management, and Justin Timberlake as a young Red Sox scout—all trying to acquire the next Chipper Jones. Or the next Hank Aaron, Dale Murphy, Phil Niekro…
The Story: There’s something deeper here than just baseball and that is exactly what’s missing from movies these days—the metaphors, the symbolism, the literary complexities of good storytelling. In a way, Trouble With The Curve picks up where Moneyball (2011) left off taking the opposite position of Michael Lewis’ book and the Oscar nominated Brad Pitt movie that came of it, which is that conflict between old-fashioned scouting for future prospects—of former baseball players and specialists who know the game so well they can spot the good or bad in a player just from watching him play—versus the Yale and Harvard wizkid approach of crunching statistics on laptops. That’s what way-past-retirement scout Gus Lobel (Eastwood) does for a living. He travels to high school and college ball parks for the Braves looking for the next number one draft pick. His daughter, Mickey, played by Amy Adams, is concerned about his health. As is his friend Pete Klein played by Goodman. Pete confides in Mickey his concerns about Gus and she summons up the courage to visit him in North Carolina, against his codger wishes, against her better judgment, and against the wishes of her law firm.
The Goods: Trouble With The Curve almost wants to go the On Golden Pond (1981) route but before it does it takes a few good curves in the right direction. Not that On Golden Pond isn’t a good movie but we don’t want a been-there-seen-that scenario. So Eastwood’s longtime producer turned director for this film, Robert Lorenz, stays with baseball so the audience and characters all have common goals. That helps the film in the long run because it’s a good movie for baseball fans who like good baseball content.
The past haunts Gus and from time to time we see glimpses of memories, one involving the recurring presence of a horse and somehow that youthful, vibrant horse comes to symbolize many things in the film. More than anything too it’s a trigger to a very specific cinema style that gets us deeper into an aging father’s mind. The evocative image of a half-open barn door, at night, nothing but darkness within, our camera moving slowly toward it, comes to have Freudian significance beyond the obvious conflicts we see arising from a baseball scout’s aging. And then we have a good movie for movie fans who like good filmmaking.
The Flaws: Like a Rocky film, Rocky V to be exact, where the conversations and stressed relationships between friends and family wear on the fighter, so too do we see conflict in big dialogue parts. It seems just right for most of the film but as we reach a crescendo the talking gets excessive and the “pitches” don’t seem to land the way we might want them too. We get drag on the story’s momentum instead of oomph, and we get so bogged down with a relationship that seems to have no growth, no arcing change in sight, no summation of the principle characters’ relationship, that we suddenly miss the film’s baseball story. And the film’s subtle poetics. Sure, it wraps up nicely and we get something of a fairy tale baseball ending (that skates thinly on absurdity) which is fine but this movie starts out with, and has so much more potential than, just fine.
The Call: Spend the ten. If you’re a Braves fan and you take away the emotional attachment to your favorite team, of even if you take away the magic of baseball entirely (and the recent politics of Eastwood at the Republican Convention), Trouble With The Curve has enough story about a strained father and daughter relationship and the curves they strive to overcome that it almost makes the list of better films this year.
Rated PG-13 for language, sexual references, some thematic material and smoking. Running time is 1 hour and 51 minutes. It’s not an Oscar worthy film but it’s just as good as an older Disney, or older Paul Newman film…like one of those Robert Benson, Paul Newman films. Think Nobody’s Fool (1994). Clint Eastwood is nobody’s fool. He knows exactly what he’s doing.
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