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Review: Clint Eastwood back on home turf in 'Trouble With the Curve'

By Tom Charity, Special to CNN
September 21, 2012 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
Amy Adams and Clint Eastwood team up as daughter and father in
Amy Adams and Clint Eastwood team up as daughter and father in "Trouble With the Curve," a sentimental baseball film.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Clint Eastwood plays Gus, a scout for the Braves in the new film
  • Amy Adams is his daughter, a hotshot lawyer
  • The movie has all the hallmarks of an Eastwood movie in his folksiest mood, reviewer says

(CNN) -- Forget that chair. Better yet, sit on it. Clint Eastwood is back doing what he's supposed to be doing in "Trouble With the Curve," a sentimental baseball saga that is the inverse of "Moneyball" in almost every respect and shows the star's still got what it takes to carry a movie home.

Film stars aren't always the best judge of when it to call it a day, and you might fear the worst as Eastwood grouses about his pee in the first scene. Surely this isn't the curve he's troubled about?

But of course that's wrong: Eastwood knows best. Part of his longevity as a star comes from his readiness to probe his own weaknesses, and it should come as no surprise that he's candid -- and funny -- about the frailties of old age.

His character, Gus, is a scout for the Braves, one of the best there ever was. But has he still got what it takes? Not only is he computer illiterate, but the guy still reads newspapers. That's not all: He's losing his eyesight, and though he's doing his best to hide it, it's getting harder to explain the rapid accumulation of dinks and dents in his convertible.

Things come to a head the week before the draft. He's sent to North Carolina to check out the next big slugger. His buddy Pete (John Goodman) begs Gus' daughter, Mickey (Amy Adams), to cover his back.

A hotshot lawyer on the verge of making partner, she's got plenty of reasons to turn him down flat, including that her dad's a cranky and uncommunicative curmudgeon and always has been. In her childhood, he dragged her round ball fields or packed her off to boarding school without ever thinking to ask her preference, and she's been in therapy since college. She goes anyway. You won't need 20/20 vision to see what's coming next.

Although it's directed by a proxy (Robert Lorenz was assistant director on "Million Dollar Baby," "Mystic River" and "Space Cowboys" among others), "Trouble With the Curve" has all the hallmarks of an Eastwood movie in his folksiest mood. It's conservative with a small "c"; interested in people -- not style or systems -- it's plain-spoken and heartfelt, a bit corny, a bit clichéd and not at all slick or quick.

With Eastwood, when the script is strong and everything comes together, he's capable of producing wonderful movies. Other times you have to take the rough with the smooth.

What works here is, first and foremost, Adams. It's a peach of a role (it hardly needs pointing out that Eastwood has a long history of putting himself up against strong, independent women), and Adams is charming as a smart, attractive, career-driven, pool shootin', baseball lovin', perpetually thwarted daddy's girl.

Maybe she's a shade too attractive -- it's hard to take your eyes off her hair, so luscious it practically demands its own trailer -- but the contrast with flinty, brittle old Gus is effective, and Adams shows some grit too, easily bossing Justin Timberlake (game as the movie's token love interest). As for Eastwood, he could play his part with his eyes shut and still hit it out of the park.

Randy Brown's screenplay is on shakier ground when it tries to get father and daughter to open up to each other. Not many filmmakers would risk the scenes where each separately break into "You Are My Sunshine," and you will have to decide for yourself whether they belong on the cutting-room floor.

But for all its occasional tin ear, "Dr Phil" dialogue, its contrivances and shortcuts, this remains a fundamentally sound and solid entertainment with a deep-rooted conviction that how we treat each other matters.

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