Virtually a year ago to the date, Bennett Miller, and more importantly Aaron Sorkin gave us Moneyball; a hybrid vision of sporting cinema and baseball in which computing is at the forefront of the ‘All-American’ game and that statistics and figures are of significantly higher importance than how a said player whacks a ball. 12 months and 3 days later, début director Robert Lorenz brings us Trouble with the Curve - the polar opposite of Moneyball; a traditional film about the game and that no amount of calculations and computers can trump hands-on experience.
Gus Lobel (Clint Eastwood) has been the signature name in baseball scouting for years. Having signed some of the Atlanta Braves finest players, he’s a vital asset to the team’s success, however no matter how much he attempts to cover it, Gus’ age is catching up with him. After being sent on a final drafting recruitment in the hope to snatch up a top batting phenomena, his estranged daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) joins him to attempt patch up their tarnished relationship which has seen untold damage over countless years.
Despite this being Lorenz’s first film as director, he has worked in assistant directorial and producing roles alongside Eastwood since 1995. In fact, he’s aided and overseen every directing effort by his leading actor since The Bridges of Madison County, so it’s clear there is a bond between the pair and having the roles alter for Trouble with the Curve is certainly a charming touch.
Unlike Moneyball, this film doesn’t take many risks thematically; in fact, it’s a fairly clichéd, recycled and predictable drama, but it isn’t without merit. Despite a bizarrely misjudged opening sequence in which a weary Gus attempts to urinate whilst growling and barking orders at his penis, the film is able to dust itself off quickly and become wholesome entertainment. Nothing in Trouble with the Curve will essentially surprise, but it will engage, and this is due to the brilliantly crafted father-daughter relationship between Gus and Mickey.
Clearly damaged by the loss of her mother and her father’s constant absence in her life, Mickey has become a strong and independent woman as well as being consistent. Her busy working life causes havoc to any attempt at romance and makes her attempts to rebuild with her toughened, selfish father even more of a struggle. Gus doesn’t want sympathy or help from anyone, nor does he want to admit defeat and accept his illness. He is an arrogant but driven elderly man who doesn’t want to feel elderly.
Like the best sports movies, the actual sporting event itself doesn’t particular matter, it’s the characters and the scenarios which build the film’s bridges and pathways. Trouble with the Curve isn’t amongst the best but it does follow these footsteps. The driving forces is the complex and alienated relationship between the two leads, Gus’ life altering as he has to deal with glaucoma, and connecting with former baseball prodigy Johnny Flanagan (Justin Timberlake).
Randy Brown‘s first screenplay is approached with a cookie-cutter; it never attempts to hit the home-run, it’s just happy pacing along to third base. The dialogue is occasionally overly sentimental and at times cheesy, but it’s never awful or embarrassing. It actually does offer the odd laugh too; a gag about Ice Cube is fantastic. Clint’s lines may as well just be a series of grunts and groans as he practically mumbles and grunts his way through 110 minutes of film. Love Clint as one does, he has been playing an ageing Clint Eastwood for the last 15 years and it’s just all too familiar. Still, his delivery is significantly better than say Sandra Bullock who was able to win an Oscar for The Blind Side which had diabolic dialogue and zero ambition so it seems unfair to really batter the writing here.
Trouble with the Curve benefits from some beautiful cinematography and some sumptuous framing; many scenes not including the game moments look polished, radiant and vibrant. The film is crafted and layered with a plush, bold colour pallet which is certainly surprising and makes the film worthy of a cinema visit. Plus the baseball sequences are enjoyable, well choreographed and despite being obvious, still make you want to fist-pump a little.
Undoubtedly the film’s key in it’s arsenal is a demanding, absorbing performance from Adams who is clearly one of Hollywood’s strongest actresses working today. Even with fairly mediocre dialogue, she brings such energy and passion to the role that she simply slides and smooths out the bumps. Mickey’s character has emotional heft and this is where Adams gets really stuck in; she is a product of her father, a woman of our times, yet she’s humbled and defined by traditional values and ideologies. It isn’t her best performance this year – that one is in The Master which is being overlooked despite being one of the year’s best female screen-turns, but here she dominates and wins Lorenz’s feature.
Timberlake gives a good performance too in a moderately limited role but it’s great to see him embrace new things and he’s the obvious exception to the ‘singer-to-actor’ transition rule. Timberlake has proven many times of his abilities and he is able to show some of them here. Matthew Lillard pops up occasionally as the thorn in Gus’ and the Atlanta Braves’ side. He plays Philip; the new guy at the team who wants to draft players via computing and online analysis. Lillard is pretty comic as the bad guy audiences are meant to boo but alas, he doesn’t appear enough to really whine. John Goodman also stars as Gus’ best friend and co-worker Pete Klein who too likes things the good ol’ fashioned way. As always Goodman is enjoyable, plus he sports a brilliant moustache here which one presumes is his attempt at ‘Movember’.
In a few years time, you’ll likely see Trouble with the Curve showing on Channel 5 at 4:30pm on a Sunday and rightly so – it’s perfect lazy afternoon viewing that’s easy-going, inoffensive and tender, and whilst it’s never original and is happy to hold the hand and baby-step throughout it’s duration, it’s never a dull or uninvolved work. It’s certainly worth watching for Adams and it’s delightful charm which will certainly boost your mood during the winter blues. And no, the title isn’t to do with Clint’s issues downstairs; you’ll work out it’s meaning during the third act…[Rating: 3]
Trouble with the Curve is released in UK cinemas on 30th November 2012.