The most fascinating part of all this for me is knowing about positive reinforcement intellectually and yet realizing
how effective it is at manipulating my behavior. I totally know what’s going on and yet, psychologically, it works on me anyway. I should be able to resist its sway. I understand what’s going on in my head. It just works.
I thought about that a lot as I was watching the new Clint Eastwood movie, Trouble with the Curve.
I think storytelling has a similar dynamic in our minds. If a story is told effectively, it doesn’t matter if we can see the artifice of it at work. We may intellectually understand the way a story is manipulating us, but it doesn’t matter. If it’s told effectively, it just works.
If I showed the first 35 minutes of Trouble with the Curve to a group of people and then asked them to write out how they thought the movie would end, I don’t think there’s anybody who wouldn’t have it completely figured out. There is no big plot twist, no "Gotcha Moment," no “Wait, she has a penis?” revelation. If you’ve seen a movie before, you pretty much know where this story is headed and how it’s going to be eventually resolved. It’s old fashioned and immensely predictable, but the movie is also really satisfying, because it is so damn effective at telling its story. It just works.
Eastwood stars as Gus, a legendary scout for the Atlanta Braves who is starting to have serious issues with his
vision, a big problem for a guy who watches baseball players for a living. Gus is very much that analog guy in the digital age. He resists new technology that can allegedly help evaluate players, relying on his gut instincts instead. In many ways, Gus’ old school ways are the polar opposites of Billy Beane’s embrace of sabermetrics in Moneyball.
With the MLB draft only a few days away, Gus is dispatched to North Carolina to scout a high school phenom named Bo Gentry. Gentry is a Grade A douchebag, so we know there must be a flaw in his game that needs to be detected. Since Gus’ vision is a problem, his boss Pete (John Goodman, always a pleasure) talks Gus’ estranged daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) into hitting the road with her dad and keeping an eye on him. Mickey is now a high-powered Atlanta lawyer about to make partner at her firm, but she also possesses a keen knowledge of the game. Her relationship with Gus is chilly at best, but she feels a sense of responsibility to him and joins him on the road. Justin Timberlake shows up as Johnny, a pitcher Gus had scouted years ago whose major league career was ruined by a rotator cuff injury. Johnny is now a scout for the Boston Red Sox but is interested in pursuing a career in the broadcast booth.
Will Gus’ old timey instincts win out over the new fangled scouting methods?
Will Gus and Mickey mend their tattered relationship?
Will Mickey and Johnny find romance?
Is there a hidden gem of a baseball prospect waiting to be discovered?
If you answered “No” to any of these questions, you’ve clearly never seen a movie before. But, none of that matters as Trouble with the Curve hums along like a well-oiled machine.
Eastwood has been playing this crotchety old guy with daughter issues since Million Dollar Baby, and he’s really got it down to a science at this point. He and Adams are really terrific together, and their scenes work even when Randy Brown’s screenplay doesn’t give them very much support. For me the jury is still out on Timberlake as an actor, but here he’s not being asked to do much more than be charming and breezy, and he handles that like a pro.
In addition to Goodman, the supporting cast is riddled with great character actors like Robert Patrick, Bob Gunton, and Chelcie Ross. And, as he did in The Desendants, Matthew Lillard provides an excellent weasel as Gus’ arch nemesis in the scouting department.
This is the first film Eastwood has starred in but not directed himself since In the Line of Fire way back in 1993. His long-time AD Robert Lorenz makes his directing debut here. Since the crew is largely Eastwood’s regulars (for instance, DP Tom Stern has shot every Eastwood picture since Blood Work), this feels like a movie Clint might have made himself.
One nice change is that Eastwood normally composes his own musical scores, which are sparse and piano based, but Trouble with the Curve has an effective, full orchestral score composed by Marco Beltrami. There’s also no horrendous Eastwood singing over the end credits as occurred in Gran Torino. And, let’s face it: the Gran Torino singing was way more bizarre than the RNC speech to the empty chair.
I suppose there’s no way to escape this review without using a hackneyed baseball metaphor, so while Trouble with the Curve isn’t a grand slam homerun, it’s a very solid run scoring double.