In Robert Lorenz’s debut directorial feature, Clint Eastwood brings a swift end to his previously announced acting retirement to play Gus Lobel, a grizzled and world-weary baseball scout, his first appearance in a film he did not himself direct since In the Line of Fire back in 1993.
Trouble With the Curve marks a continuing collaborative relationship between director and star – the former having produced many of the latter’s films – although it lacks the dramatic weight of Eastwood’s Oscar-winning Million Dollar Baby or the historical context of Invictus.
Gus is a talented baseball scout nearing retirement, who is struggling with what might be glaucoma. He stubbornly refuses to see an eye specialist, opting instead to head off on a scouting trip which, if it goes badly, could cost him a shot at a new contract. His friend in the business, played warmly by John Goodman, convinces his estranged daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) to tag along with him, ostensibly to help him deal with his eye condition, but also to patch up their relationship.
We follow father and daughter to a series of local baseball matches in anticipation of the pre-season ‘draft’, in which scouts provide reports to their teams on what players they should, or should not, bid for. During this time, Mickey attempts to get close to her distant father who, even despite his worsening eye condition, sees the game more clearly than he does his daughter.
Few people play grizzled old curmudgeons like Eastwood can, and his portrayal of Gus, though it sometimes drifts towards caricature, is believable. After a sluggish first act in which the film struggles to set a convincing tone, things settle down pleasantly enough into what is a functional and competently put together film. Adams is good as the emotionally shut-off daughter, while Justin Timberlake does enough with the pretty standard role of handsome ex-pro.
The film has very few hard edges and takes no risks, so you’ll know pretty much exactly where it’s headed long before the run time is over, and there is very little in there to surprise or challenge. One rare moment of daring involves Eastwood choking up while singing You Are My Sunshine, a scene that is convincingly played, but can’t help but feel cheesy. There is also a minor revelation in the final act which feels tacked on and inconsequential. Lorenz’s film does at least do a decent job of endearing the audience to its characters, however clear-cut they may be, and there are moments of warmth along the way.
This feels like a fairly disposable entry in Eastwood’s filmography, and represents a confident if uninspiring start to Lorenz’s directorial career; if anything, it shows that Eastwood needn’t call time on his acting career just yet. It just doesn’t have enough bite or personality to stand out in the canon of sports films.