Clint Eastwood’s recent bizarre appearance at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., may have stolen some of the thunder from his new film “Trouble with the Curve,” where he plays Gus Lobel, a grousing Atlanta Braves baseball scout whose eyesight is failing. Still, Eastwood is Eastwood, whether he’s on a convention podium or before the cameras. What you see is pretty much what you get.
And what you get in “Trouble with the Curve” is standard-issue late-career Eastwoodiana. The growl, the snarl, the crotchetiness are already familiar to us from “Million Dollar Baby” (2004) and “Gran Torino” (2009), his last appearance as an actor.
Gus is first shown reaching into his refrigerator for a can of Spam. This is, by the way, the only kind of spam with which he is familiar. He can barely work a typewriter and has no use for computers, unlike the Braves front office team, which rates young baseball prospects by their computerized stats and rarely ventures into the field for a firsthand look. Gus, by contrast, is deeply old school.
As the film too diligently points out, he’s not just old school, he’s old everything. Actually Eastwood, in his 80s, looks a lot trimmer than some of the performers in this film half his age. He may be the only octogenarian actor who has to play older than his age to be convincing.
“Trouble with the Curve” was not directed by Eastwood, who has helmed his share of fine films, but by his longtime producing partner Robert Lorenz, making his feature-film debut. This perhaps explains why the movie creaks along its timeworn path without any discernible narrative elegance. (The script is by Randy Brown.) But a big plus here is Amy Adams, who livens things up as Gus’s estranged daughter, Mickey (named after Mickey Mantle).
In line for a partnership at a high-powered Atlanta law firm, Mickey, who was raised by Gus on the road when he wasn’t shunting her off on relatives, sets aside her ambition to help her father when his poor eyesight puts his job on the line. Gus is scouting a top high school prospect in North Carolina, and Mickey, who knows almost as much about baseball as her father, comes to his (grudging) rescue. The bond-athon that develops between these two battlers is enabled by another scout, Johnny Flanagan (Justin Timberlake), once an Atlanta fastballer brought along by Gus who now hopes to be a broadcaster.
Eastwood has never been a terrific actor exactly, but within his very limited range he knows just what to do. I’ve liked him best when he’s at his most hard-bitten – as in “Escape from Alcatraz” (1979) and “In the Line of Fire” (1993). I thought he overdid the grumpy old man stuff in “Gran Torino,” which was widely discussed as a movie about what Dirty Harry might have become if he spent all his time yelling at kids to get off his lawn.
Eastwood has been around a long, long time; and a movie like “Trouble with the Curve,” like “Gran Torino,” has a valedictory air to it. It draws on our affection for Eastwood the actor, who is far less complicated than the man who made “Unforgiven” (1992), “Mystic River” (2003), “Million Dollar Baby,” and “Letters From Iwo Jima” (2006) – films with a complex comprehension of the consequences of violence.
It’s one of the strangest careers in American film, and one far less predictable than the plot of “Trouble with the Curve.” Grade: B- (Rated PG-13 for language, sexual references, some thematic material and smoking.)