Trouble with the Curve, Clint Eastwood’s latest film, is a new addition to the pantheon of American baseball movies. Fresh off a recent stage gig where he conversed with an empty chair, Clint gets back to doing what he’s done best for the past decade—playing grouchy old men who’ve still got skills and shouldn’t be bet against just yet.
Trouble is a good one. It’s right up there with Moneyball. Maybe just as good. Come to think of it, theme-wise, Trouble with the Curve is the exact opposite of Moneyball.
Clint plays Gus Lobel, a legendary baseball scout whose finely honed understanding of the game and the requisite scouting skills are supremely masterful.
However, he’s perceived by the movers and shakers of the Atlanta Braves as a computer-illiterate codger and an old coot with diminished capability. His all-important sharp vision is going. The up-and-coming young Turks are snapping at his heels like jackals.
The Braves front office sends him to scout a high school superstar batter, and Gus’s boss and buddy Pete Klein (John Goodman), recruits Gus’s highly baseball-savvy daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) to go with him.
Mickey (named after Mickey Mantle, of course) and dad don’t get along. He abandoned her when she was a child. Now an ambitious attorney, she’s less than thrilled with the prospect of spending time with her stubborn mule of a dad. But they eventually get on the road. Cue motel shots and nighttime sounds of crickets and trucks on thruways.
Enter Justin Timberlake. He plays Johnny Flanagan, formerly known as The Flame when he pitched blazing 100 mph fastballs in the big leagues. He blew out his rotator cuff early and now scouts for a living. Gus once scouted the young Flanagan.
The former Flame runs into Gus at a game, and one look at daughter Mickey fans Flanagan’s flame into a forest fire. Theirs is a courtship of highly rarified baseball trivia competitions.
All the congregated scouts are having themselves a look at high school batting powerhouse Bo Gentry (Joe Massingill), who’s as prima-donna annoying as he is talented. Mickey helps her dad scout, displaying an eye and talent that reveals her to be an undeniable chip off the old block.
However, the father-daughter abandonment dysfunction eventually boils over and they go their separate ways—but not before Mickey’s unearthed a prodigious pitching talent in the Latino kid who helps his mom run the motel. He also sells peanuts at the high school games, and whom bat-tastic Bo calls “Peanut Boy.”
The baseball movie is an inherent piece of Americana, regardless of the era. The timeless “Crack!” of a bat smacking the old horsehide, Ry Cooder-type guitar musings on the soundtrack, the “Paff!” of big stadium lights shutting down after practice, and the inevitable showdown between a super batting talent up against a dangerous pitcher or a super pitching talent against a dangerous batter—these are things Americans treasure.
Clint’s never had a problem with self-deprecating humor. He started making fun of his aging bones 10 years ago in Unforgiven, with the running gag of hilariously fumbled attempts to mount his steed.
When John Goodman’s character queries as to the questionable style of Clint’s living room, Clint responds with, “That’s Feng Smay—don’t you know anything?”
The beginning’s a little draggy. Eastwood’s producing partner Robert Lorenz is a first-time director. But the only really false note is of Clint’s character talking to his wife’s tombstone and singing You Are My Sunshine. The treacle factor is high.
While Moneyball made a strong case for sabermetrics (statistical analysis measuring in-game activity) as being the future of the game, Trouble with the Curve makes just as strong a case for tried-and-true, in-the-field scouting as being the foundation that the house of baseball was built on, and therefore nondismantle-able. Make that—nondis-MickeyMantle-able.
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