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REVIEW: Eastwood's old curveball crosses the plate
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman
Director: Robert Lorenz
Running time: 1 hour, 51 minutes
Rated: PG-13 for language, sexual references, some thematic material and smoking
Gus has been a baseball scout so long he can judge a batter by the sound when his bat connects with the ball. Did he always have this ability, or did it develop in recent years when his eyesight began to fail? The Atlanta Braves are on the edge of retiring him, but not if Gus (Clint Eastwood) has anything to say about it. He leads a lonely life, driving between small cities, sitting in the stands of minor league clubs, living in budget motels, but he loves it.
His boss and friend Pete Klein (John Goodman) senses Gus' problems, and appeals to the old man's daughter to check him out on the road. This is Mickey (Amy Adams), who has been out of touch with her estranged father for years. She caves in and tracks him to the sunburnt bleachers he occupies with other scouts and a handful of fans. He's focusing on a phenom named Bo Gentry (Joe Massingill), who is pudgy, but that doesn't slow him down because he slugs homers with the frequency of Babe Ruth.
This Bo isn't a nice man. "Hey, Peanut Boy!" he calls to a vendor, who tosses him a bag of peanuts. Bo doesn't see any need to pay him. Gus growls when he's joined by Mickey, who for that matter isn't too thrilled to see him. She's a hotshot lawyer in a big Atlanta firm, in line for a partnership. But she sees her dad could use some help, and we learn she never wanted to be a lawyer, anyway. All she's ever loved is baseball.
We settle now into a routine of discount motel rooms and bars and grills, as they cross paths with Johnny (Justin Timberlake), a pitcher who was originally recruited by Gus but blew out his arm and is now scouting for a season on the way to what he hopes will be an announcing job. Johnny and Mickey grow sweet about each other, and Gus begins to soften until it's time for a heart-to-heart with his daughter. That doesn't come easy for a man with a thick skin.
Eastwood's appeal here is bedrock authority. He knows baseball, and he knows he knows it.
Amy Adams has been the embodiment of lovability since "Junebug" (2005), and here takes a standard role and makes us value it. Justin Timberlake finds the right note for a basically one-note character. John Goodman embodies the guy who you hope has your back in the front office, and has a tense scene here where he makes a very hard call.
"Trouble With the Curve" isn't a great sports film, like Eastwood's "Million Dollar Baby." But it's a superior entertainment, moving down somewhat predictable paths but with an authenticity and humanity that appeals. It's Eastwood's first film since "In the Line of Fire" (1993) where he has acted but not directed -- but he isn't that far from the director's chair because Robert Lorenz, this film's first-time helmer, has been the producer of Eastwood's last 11 films, and a second unit director on others.
Any Eastwood film is notable above all for its professionalism. If the story here has certain foreseeable moments, that's not to say they aren't set up well and deliver right on time. We might suspect that Bo Gentry and Peanut Boy (Jay Galloway) may meet again, but how it happens, and how Mickey is involved, is classic movie gold. There are so many traffic jams in the typical recent hyperkinetic movie that to find a sound story this well told is a pleasure.