Baseball drama ambles along like slow pitch softball
By T.T. Stern-Enzi
Gus (Clint Eastwood) is a typically grizzled old coot. He’s resistant to the social and cultural evolution that has taken place around him, preferring instead to keep his head down and continue to push against the stream flow of progress. It helps, of course, that at his job as a baseball scout for the Atlanta Braves, he’s the best; he has a unique gift to spot talent and nurture it in such a way to guarantee that it will live up to expectations. He also has the ability to sense when talent alone, no matter how remarkable, isn’t enough, when a once-in-a-lifetime player lacks the will and/or heart to utilize their innate skills.
If you’ve ever seen a movie, you will realize that Gus is a creation with an unsurprising character flaw – he can’t see his own shortcomings and make the necessary adjustments. That assessment’s not quite accurate. More to the point, Gus will be forced to confront his own deficiencies and he will simply put his head down even further and ram right through whatever emotional barriers stand in his way because even with his own demons that must be overcome, he’s still going to be proven right in the end, which means that it’s the world that must bow to his will.
Gus’s eyes are going bad, which for a scout is the kiss of death. He’s going to be unable to spot the hitch in a batter’s swing or a turn or over-extension in a pitching motion that could spell down, long-term, for a flamethrower or a change-up specialist. So, when his best friend and boss Pete Klein (John Goodman) gives him the one last chance that the plot has to grant him, Pete hedges by calling in Gus’s somewhat-estranged daughter Mickey (Amy Adams), a headstrong lawyer who has learned all of the tricks of the scouting trade from her old man, to shadow Gus. It doesn’t matter that Mickey’s facing a major case that could land her partnership at her firm – she would be the youngest partner and the only female.
To sweeten the pot for her, there’s a young scout named Johnny (Justin Timberlake) who was once a promising pitcher that Gus touted. Johnny’s a loyal puppy dog of a kid with a blown-out arm, chasing the dream of becoming a play-by-play announcer. He’s eager and a guy in touch with his feelings and living life in the moment, something that a type-A personality like Mickey needs to embrace.
All of these characters have their eyes on a hotshot prospect on the field, but we know the real inside game here is the interplay between these three. Gus is just another Eastwood creation and he’s working on fumes from his glory days, the last acting highlight for him was likely his performance in “Million Dollar Baby” opposite Morgan Freeman and Hilary Swank, which probably explains why director Robert Lorenz (a regular second unit director with Eastwood granted the chance to step up to the majors here) signed up. You’ve got the grand old man teamed up with another strong female performer and in this case, an engaging young talent, transitioning from music to film – fluidly stealing every scene he’s in – so this has to be a home run, right?
Unfortunately, that whiff you hear is the sound of “Trouble With The Curve” striking out. There’s not a single change-up in the drama and its fastball comes across the plate like a big fat slow-pitch softball, but Lorenz and his usually reliable heavy hitters can’t make meaningful contact with each other or the more discerning members of the audience, the real talent scouts out there who want to take a swing at something that resembles the real game of life.
Reach DCP film critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at Film@DaytonCityPaper.com