Trouble with the Curve – Movie Review
Baseball is my favorite sport (it’s the only one I ever watch on TV, anyway), and of course that is only accentuated by the fact that some of the best sports films have been based on America’s great pastime. Come on, I literally grew up watching The Sandlot, and Moneyball was very high on my list of my favorite films of 2011. Naturally, I became excited for Trouble with the Curve simply because it is a baseball movie. Still, when I learned that the main character would be played by the legendary Clint Eastwood while being supported by Amy Adams, I was immediately sold. Is this film the Moneyball for 2012, or does Trouble with the Curve end up being struck out?
Gus Lobel (Clint Eastwood) is a scout for the Atlanta Braves, and he had made such a name for himself that he is essentially a living legend. However, age has finally caught up to him, and so has technology. With his dwindling eyesight and the transition from traditional scouting to judging players via computer-tracked statistics, some of the management at the Braves’ office is considering letting go of Lobel and seeking new blood. His boss and long-time friend Pete (John Goodman) does not wish to see Gus go, so he urges him to go on one last tour inNorth Carolinato prove to his superiors that there is still value in old school scouting. Gus agrees, and then Pete asks his daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) to go with him to ensure that Gus is okay, although she realizes that her dysfunctional relationship with her father may be uncomfortable for both of them. They then reluctantly go to games together as they observe a promising player named Bo Gentry, and along the way he reconnects with Johnny Flanagan (Justin Timberlake), an announcer-hopeful who used to be a professional player before severely injuring an arm. From that, a relationship ensues between Mickey and Johnny and then Mickey and Gus struggle to fix their relationship as well amidst their need to judge whether or not Bo Gentry is a good pick for the Atlanta Braves…
When watching a drama, what really matters is the story. Well, story should always come first for any screenwriter, but this is especially true with dramas since great conversational dialogue, character development and meaningful ideas dominate the stories of the best dramatic films. I’m happy to report that Trouble with the Curve is a cohesively-written film, and nothing about the story is necessarily bad; the story is bearable and the characters are decent enough, so I was able to get through this film without having to feel like I had wasted my time. The huge problem with Trouble with the Curve is that it’s just too predictable and clichéd to be anything special, which disappointed me because the cast and premise had intrigued me going into this. Like I said, this film isn’t a bad watch; the thing is, I was able to expect nearly everything that was going to happen. After seeing this film, I was convinced that writer Randy Brown had picked nearly cliché present in the normal feel-good drama and just twisted them around to fit into a father-daughter baseball movie. For instance, Eastwood and Adams’ scenes in this film play out exactly in the way I thought, for of course we expect them to be hesitant towards each other in the beginning but nothing is truly special about how the writer decides to fix their relationship. I’m sad to say that even Clint Eastwood’s character Gus Lobel is a cliché, which is partially because at this point Eastwood is just repeating himself. Don’t get me wrong, there is a certain charm to the character and we certainly feel for him, but there will be more on that later. I didn’t exactly appreciate the “villain” of this movie either (an up-and-comer for the spot of General Manager played by Matthew Lillard), for he has some rather lame, one-dimensional lines of dialogue and the way this film concludes his character is so predictable that I was so tempted to flat out say “well, I didn’t see that one coming!” Still, there are definitely positive aspects of Trouble with the Curve, because as I had said this isn’t clichéd to the point in which you will be groaning from scene to scene. I liked the direction in which it took the relationship between Johnny and Gus, the story of Gus and Mickey is compelling, and there is some funny dialogue here and there. So yeah, I was entertained and the story is bearable enough, so don’t expect a borefest here because Trouble with the Curve is a coherent film. Still, if you are like me and had expected this to be a great film, prepare for disappointment.
At least the acting is impressive. Trouble with the Curve was obviously written as a star vehicle for Clint Eastwood, and rightfully so because Eastwood nails his role as I had expect him to. He has charm that commands the attention of his audience, but at the same time it’s great to hear his gruff voice and “Get off my lawn!” attitude. At this point, it’s clear that Eastwood has got the role of a grouchy, aging man down pat, and I can’t imagine many other actors who can pull off doing so with as much nuance and charisma as one of cinema’s greatest legends. Still, as great as his performance is, it’s something that we’ve all seen before, so there are no genuine surprises with what he brings to his character since it is mainly a baseball-oriented variation of roles he’s taken in the past. Amy Adams is one of my favorite actresses, and of course she is great in this film as well. Of course, she’s also playing a character that is somewhat predictably written since Mickey is the type of girl who is not wholly interested in men and wants to focus on the career that matters to her, but there is more to her performance than that. She must understand how to properly portray this kind of tough girl, because she doesn’t overdo it and become a typical tomboy; she’s just a joy to watch because she helps to emphasize that Mickey has those male and female attributes. Now, I have never been a fan of Justin Timberlake, but his work as Johnny Flanagan in Trouble with the Curve convinced me that the man actually has some talent. So in that sense, for me Timberlake was the big surprise. Sure, he’s got nothing on a legend like his co-star, but he nonetheless handled his material well and is funny when he needs to be. Other than that, it’s always a joy to have John Goodman and Robert Patrick on screen, so their scenes in Trouble with the Curve certainly weren’t wasted. Matthew Lillard is the only one who I have to gripe about, which is mainly because his character is so clichéd that he doesn’t have much to work with.
It’s hard to discuss the technical aspects of a film when it’s a drama since they don’t matter as much as they would in say, an action or animated film, but I still like how Trouble with the Curve was shot as a whole. There is nothing really wrong with the cinematography at all, because there are some great shots of the beautiful Southern environments in the film, and first-time director Robert Lorenz shows promise as a man who understands how to artistically shoot a scene. That doesn’t mean this film has a distinct style, but you know, it looks fine as it is. On the not-so-positive side, I wish that Trouble with the Curve seized opportunities to film some great baseball scenes. Sure, it’s probably a good thing that the script was focused on the characters at hand here, but in a movie that is about baseball scouting we should have been given more angles of the games that occur in this film, and the scenes involving them simply could have been longer as well. Many baseball movies manage to balance the sports action and character development without sacrificing any necessary time in the story, but I just wish that Trouble with the Curve had a little bit more of the former. Still, that’s more of a gripe rather than an actual flaw, because this film still works as a decent character-driven drama. As for the music, Oscar nominee Marco Beltrami (well-known for his work in the 2007 remake of 3:10 to Yuma and The Hurt Locker) does fine with his score here, but many moments in which the music kicks in feel engineered specifically for us to know when we’re supposed to feel something for the characters. Generally, this should be the goal of any composer since film scores often heighten the emotional impact of a story, but sadly the music sometimes works against this and feels generically-placed in the narrative.
Trouble with the Curve isn’t a bad film by any means. I mean, what’s not to like about a Clint Eastwood film (especially since this is the first film he’s had an acting role in four years)? His supporting cast is equally appealing, the writing is solid and I certainly wasn’t mad that I went to go see it. Still, I expected much more from this movie since I thought it could have been this year’s Moneyball, but in the end it is yet another overly predictable and clichéd melodrama. Sure, I would encourage you to go see it because it is one of the better films released this month. At the same time, I found it impossible to deny that the team behind this film should have thrown a curveball or two.
[easyreview title=”Trouble with the Curve – Final Score” cat1title=”Verdict” cat1detail=”Trouble with the Curve may be strengthened by its cast (especially Eastwood), along with its solid story and direction, but ultimately it falls short due to an overabundance of predictable plot points and cliches.” cat1rating=”3.0″ summary=”3/5 – Decent”]