Trouble With The Curve contains a lot of elements we’ve seen before: parent/child estrangement; a quirky romance; an older employee who is made to look over-the-hill; time honored methods vs. new technological advances – in short, there’s nothing much about the movie we haven’t seen in one form or another, many, many times. But sometimes, it’s not so much the story as it is the way the story is told – and Trouble With The Curve is told very well, indeed.
Gus (Clint Eastwood) is a curmudgeonly old baseball scout for the Atlanta Braves with an impressive track record and the assignment to assess a kid named Bo Gentry (Joe Massingill) – an arrogant ass who’s been tearing up the minors. Opposed to Gus’ old-fashioned common sense and observation is number-cruncher, Philip Stevenson (Matthew Lillard), who says everything you need to know about a player can be found in numbers on the computer (he doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who would voluntarily attend a baseball game).
Gus’ eyesight is going and, suspecting something is wrong, his boss, Pete (John Goodman) persuades Gus’ estranged daughter, Mickey (Amy Adams) to ‘visit’ her dad on the road and keep an eye on him. She’s a lawyer who is about to make partner at a prestigious law firm, but she caves in to Pete’s request.
While they scout Gentry (and Mickey knows as much about baseball as her dad because she spent years on the road with him as a kid), they meet Johnny (Justin Timberlake), a one-time hot prospect who was brought along too quickly and flamed out. He’s scouting for the Red Sox with an eye to getting a broadcaster position in the near future.
Trouble With The Curve is directed much like a baseball game: director Robert Lorenz keeps the pace fairly leisurely, but since he’s working with a script (from Randy Brown) that provides a lot of quality character moments, conversations – about baseball, about the lives of the characters – they hold our attention both at and away from the games. The major difference between Trouble and most baseball-set movies is that there’s no ‘big game’ – the big event we’re waiting for is the annual player draft.
That changes things because it’s the consequences of the draft that carry the film into its final moments of final emotional weight. After all the draft is a big event – unless you choose wrong, or even not-quite well enough. The consequences of the draft echo the consequences of choices our characters, and especially Gus, made in the past – and set up actions in the present that could, hopefully lead to better consequences. (Another strength of the film is that it doesn’t end on a precisely happily-ever-after note – it merely puts the players in position for one. Kinda like a potentially favorable trade that could be of benefit to both teams…).
Sure, some of the motivations are obvious (a few aren’t), but there is truth in the performances of Eastwood, Adams, Timberlake and surprisingly, Lillard, in what was certainly a one-dimensional role on paper. The path through the various plot points might be predicable, but the folks traveling those paths are just different enough from most that they are refreshing.
The film looks good, too. There are some great sequences featuring the great outdoors – and Johnny’s introduction scene is both lovely and funny – setting up some cool stuff later on. The sequences involving games and a sequence in Atlanta show the differences between minor league and major league parks in scale, but not necessarily in beauty – kind of like the differences between traditional and modern approaches to the game.
If nothing else, Trouble With The Curve shows that even the most familiar stories can be made fresh if they’re well told. In the end, it may not be a home run (thanks to working with plot elements we’re all familiar with), but it’s definitely an RBI single into the gap – maybe even a game-winner.
Final Grade: B+