Trouble with the Curve

© 2012 Ray Wong

It's been four years since Gran Torino that Clint Eastwood appeared on screen as our favorite curmudgeon (the iconic actor has been busy playing Oscar-nominated director). Trouble with the Curve is right up his alley, perhaps a little too familiar.

Gus (Clint Eastwood) is the senior scout for the Atlanta Braves, but he is getting older and he eyes are going bad. But the stubborn, cranky old man refuses to acknowledge his problems because he may lose his job, which is all he has to live for. The fact is, he may lose his job anyway since he colleagues are depending on computers and stats to make their picks; old-time scouts like Gus are relics. Gus tries his best to hold on to his job and dignity, but he knows he has only one more chance as his contract is up for renewal in a few months.

His estranged daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) is concerned about him. At the urge of Gus's boss (John Goodman), Mickey travels to a small town in North Carolina to help her father scouting a hot baseball player that the Red Sox is also interested in. The Red Sox scout, Johnny (Justin Timberlake) happens to be one of the Gus's picks in the past -- a sport-related incident cut Johnny's ball-player career short. Johnny tags along as he respects and wants to learn something from Gus. But most important, Johnny is attracted to Mickey and wants to get closer.

A proud man, Gus is displeased that his daughter is playing nanny to him. He also has difficulty expressing his feelings to and communicating with Mickey, to her frustration and dismay. Meanwhile, Mickey tries very hard to connect with her father, even at the risk of losing her opportunity to become partner at her law firm. But between career and family, Mickey makes her choice. Would Gus do the same for her?

Clint Eastwood (Gran Torino) now has few competition (Robert De Niro and Ben Kingsley, perhaps) in the curmudgeon category, and he does it so well, what with his lanky body, disheveled looks, and gravelly voice. At his worst, Eastwood perpetuates the stereotype of a grumpy old man. At his best, he displays the rare inner pain and sorrow and softness of a lonely man who has trouble expressing his emotions to the person he loves the most. There is no question that Eastwood has given us a touching yet familiar performance.

Amy Adams (The Muppets) is quite good as the daughter. Hers is a more complex character -- strong and capable on the outside, but sad, angry, hurt and vulnerable on the inside. Adams does a fine job navigating through the myriad of emotions and walking a fine line between being heartfelt and cliched. Of the three leads, though, Justin Timberlake (In Time) seems out of place. Not a bad actor, but he is not in the same league as his co-stars. He seems slight and unconvincing as an ex-baseball player. His chemistry with Amy Adams also seems a bit off to pull off the "love interest" role.

The rest of the supporting cast is limited by what they have to play with. John Goodman (Argo) is affecting as Gus's boss, but his role is too "nice" to be real. Matthew Lillard (The Descendants) can play a slime ball in his sleep. Robert Patrick (Safe House) has a small but solid role as the Braves' owner.

Written by first-time screenwriter Randy Brown, the screenplay shows potential in the beginning. Every scene shows us a facet of the characters' lives and is full of nuance and conflicts. These are not life-and-death situations, but problems that are important to the characters. The screenplay handles the character development (of the two main characters) and their delicate relationship rather well. It looks to be a good, intimate personal drama.

Unfortunately, once the plot picks up, the story quickly goes into cliche-land. By midpoint, we already know how the story is going to end, how the character is going to turn out, and what lessons we are going to learn. In fact, the screenplay is so heavy-handed in these aspects that I start to feel manipulated. The characters, especially the minor ones, begin to look like caricatures. We have the slimy backstabbers, the cocky jock/jerk, the charming lover boy, the supportive boss… what are we missing here? Also, the story starts to distract itself from the father-daughter relationship by including an unlikely romance. Worse, as the second half clips along, the plot tries to wrap up as quickly as possible with all the loose ends tied up so nicely and easily that I feel like someone was saying, "Hey, hurry up and get to the happy ending already."

That's a shame. Robert Lorenz's direction isn't all that bad. Granted, he is a first-time director as well but he has learned quite a bit from his mentor, Clint Eastwood himself. The production is down-to-earth and the pacing is good. I am just disappointed by how cliched the story turns out given the promise of the first half. To use a baseball phrase, the movie has "trouble with the curve."

Stars: Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, Robert Patrick, Matthew Lillard
Director: Robert Lorenz
Writer: Randy Brown
Distributor: Warner Bros.
MPAA Rating:  PG-13 for language, sexual references, some violence and smoking 
Running Time: 111 minutes 


Script - 6
Performance - 8
Direction - 7
Cinematography - 7
Music/Sound - 7
Editing - 7
Production - 7

Total - 7.0 out of 10.0 

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