Following a successful string of award winning films, it’s been hard to find Hollywood veteran Clint Eastwood starring in a movie that he wasn’t also directing. In fact, In the Line of Fire (1993) was the last Eastwood starring project that was directed by a different person (Wolfgang Petersen). Over the last decade alone, the helmer has directed nine feature films – with starring roles in two of them. As a result, when moviegoers heard the acclaimed writer/director/actor/producer would once again appear on the silver screen in Trouble with the Curve, many assumed Eastwood was in the director’s chair.
Eastwood still serves as a producer on the project, but Trouble with the Curve marks the feature debut of Robert Lorenz – who holds producer and/or assistant director credits on several critically lauded Eastwood films including Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, and True Crime, among others. Despite an impressive resume, is Lorenz able to deliver a feature film worthy of the starring onscreen talent – which, in addition to Eastwood, includes performances from Amy Adams (The Fighter), John Goodman (The Artist), and Justin Timberlake (The Social Network)?
In spite of a few missteps and mostly familiar story beats, Trouble with the Curve is a solid film offering for baseball fans and movie lovers alike. The core narrative, penned by newcomer Randy Brown, presents a competent platform for strong performances from nearly every single person involved – even if certain plot points don’t resonate with the level of intended impact. Lorenz definitely draws on prior Eastwood movies (especially the pseudo-parent relationship in Million Dollar Baby) as well as riffs on prior father/daughter disconnect films for inspiration in his onscreen proceedings – but the characters and moment to moment drama are compelling enough to overlook any similarities.
The core Trouble with the Curve storyline follows Gus Lobel, an aging and rough around the edges baseball scout who, stricken with deteriorating eyesight, is finding it increasingly difficult to drive a car or prepare a meal at home – let alone sit in the bleachers and spot on-field shortcomings in potential first round draft picks. Considered a relic in the age of computerized player statistics, the Atlanta Braves send Lobel to scout a hotshot hitter out of North Carolina. Noticing Lobel’s declining health, longtime friend Pete Klein (Goodman) convinces the scout’s estranged daughter, Mickey (Adams), to take a break from her lawyer day job and return to the baseball fields she grew up on – traveling with her father one last time. In an effort to help Gus avoid a forced retirement, Mickey agrees but soon has to come face to face with her own personal challenge in the form of pitcher-turned-scout, Johnny (Timberlake).
Eastwood is at home in the lead role – as he’s mostly playing a variation of characters that we’ve seen before. This isn’t to say that the veteran actor is phoning in his performance – grumpy and silver haired Gus Lobel just isn’t a role that is likely to surprise audiences or show a new angle of Eastwood’s repertoire. The opening act of the film is particularly on-the-nose as Lorenz attempts to set the stakes for Gus, and despite a competent effort from Eastwood, is a bit too heavy-handed – resting on a batch of stilted scenes to establish the main players. That said, over time Lorenz is able to unearth more layers in Gus and the character gives us a number of memorable moments – especially as the plot progresses and he’s forced to balance his predispositions with his current (read: aging) circumstances.
The supporting cast is equally enjoyable. Certain movie fans will no doubt balk at any film that includes an appearance by Timberlake, but as he did in his Social Network role, the musician/actor continues to flourish in his dramatic work. Johnny in Trouble with the Curve is no different – and Timberlake is a very welcome breath of levity in a movie that relies heavily on Eastwood’s crotchety scowl. Adams, as Mickey Lobel, is equally enjoyable – shouldering most of the film’s emotional weight and complexity. The actress actually pulls double-duty – depicting a guarded but capable woman who, as the film develops, shivers with nervous energy in an attempt to keep her emotions bottled up. Moviegoers might expect the Gus arc to hog the spotlight but Mickey’s evolution steals the show.
In spite of the baseball angle, and numerous nods to longtime sport fans, many audience members will have no trouble recognizing “common” story set-ups (most of which are not as effective as their filmic predecessors) and for many, it’ll be easy to “predict” how the various threads will ultimately play out. However, while the story and the underlying motivations of the characters aren’t quite as unique, profound, or hard-hitting as Lorenz might have intended, Trouble with the Curve still presents plenty of entertaining and rewarding drama.
In an industry where a flashy trailer or slick poster can significantly inflate box numbers for an undeserving film (see The Apparition), Trouble with the Curve is exactly what potential viewers probably expect – a dependable character story. The project walks a smart line between the intricacies of its baseball storyline and room for its talented cast to deliver captivating character drama – resulting in an enjoyable albeit familiar time at the movies. Trouble with the Curve isn’t likely to win Lorenz the same accolades as prior efforts from his star/producer but, nonetheless, its a solid debut feature and one that will likely have viewers looking forward to the filmmaker’s next effort.
If you’re still on the fence about Trouble with the Curve, check out the trailer below:
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Trouble with the Curve is Rated PG-13 for language, sexual references, some thematic material and smoking. Now playing in theaters.