By Brian Lafferty
September 24, 2012 (San Diego) – Last year’s Moneyball was a smart baseball movie, a behind-the-scenes look at the world of front office politics. While slightly laid back and relaxed, everybody meant business. Not too serious, but plenty of drama. What happens when you fuse all that with Clint Eastwood-style wit and bit? You get something like Trouble with the Curve.
The title means several things. For professional baseball scout Gus (Eastwood), it means onset macular degeneration (which can eventually lead to blindness), the prospect of forced retirement, and his nearly estranged daughter, Mickey (Amy Adams), unexpectedly accompanying him on a job to see if a young conceited slugger is worthy of the Atlanta Braves' number two draft pick. For young hotshot scout, and former pitcher and number one overall pick Johnny (Justin Timberlake), it's navigating life after a promising career cut short as well as trying to romance the emotionally distant Mickey (who harbors a grudge against her father because she feels he abandoned her for most of her life).
The ‘Scope (2.35:1) aspect ratio, commonly used by Eastwood (who produced, but didn’t direct Trouble with the Curve) in his films, is handy for the baseball sequences. Combined with the short focal length lenses, it invites the audience into the life of a professional baseball scout by accurately showing the game from their perspective, as if they are sitting in the stands with them. The increased depth of field (gives an idea) turns each home run into a moonshot. For scenes outside the ballpark, cinematographer Tom Stern (a frequent collaborator with Eastwood) and director Robert Lorenz use the ‘Scope to recreate the rural, quaint, village atmosphere associated with small-town ball; the composition is such that the actors are never “cramped” (mainly because the filmmakers don’t film many close-ups) and are balanced against the foreground and the background.
As Gus, Eastwood is funny and witty, but his performance is ultimately far too simple. In the moment, his cantankerous persona and one-liners made me laugh and smile. After a couple of days of reflecting, his acting was barely satisfactory compared to what he’s always been capable of. His performance especially suffers when compared to his similarly curmudgeonly character, Walt Kowalski (Gran Torino): it’s the same personality, but heavily watered down. Yes, these were two different movies and characters, but Eastwood’s approach was the same. Consequently, it was too hard for me to avoid drawing comparisons.
I did have two major issues with Trouble with the Curve. It's very clear from the first moment Eastwood speaks that they did not want the film to be branded with the dreaded “R” rating for language. He utters lots of "hells,” “damns,” “Goddamns," and other “light” swears, but he doesn’t say a single four-letter word, not even the s-word. In no way do I mean to say the movie needed profanity; this type of story could have gone without it if the dialogue was rhythmically sound. But the delivery and sentence structure is at times awkward, resembling an adult trying to watch his mouth around a little kid. It's as if the script was written with lots of profanity, but the producers used a “find and replace" tool in the screenwriting software to replace the language with "cleaner" words at the very last minute, but making no other changes, taking a previously consistent rhythm and distorting it.
Secondly, the Boston Red Sox have the first overall pick in the draft and the Atlanta Braves have the second. Anybody who knows anything about Major League Baseball knows that the team with the worst overall record has the first overall selection, then the second-worst team has the second, and so on. In this film's world, set in the present day, that means the Red Sox and Braves were the two worst teams in baseball the previous season. I didn’t buy that. I believe they wanted to use the most recognizable teams instead of, say, the Astros (who, as of now, have the worst record in baseball). I had a hard time believing that, even in this movie's universe, the Red Sox and the Braves, who have been perennial contenders or at least have had many winning seasons in recent years, would be so bad as to pick first and second, respectively.
That aside, watching Trouble with the Curve was like going to a daytime baseball game: it's very quiet and peaceful.
A Warner Bros. release. Director: Robert Lorenz. Screenplay: Randy Brown. Original Music: Marco Beltrami. Cinematography: Tom Stern. Cast: Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake, Matthew Lillard, and John Goodman. Running Time: 111 minutes. Rated PG-13.