Saturday, September 22, 2012

Movie Review: "Trouble With the Curve" by Alex Schopp

Release: 2012
Director: Robert Lorenz
Written By: Randy Brown
Actors: Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, John Goodman, Justin Timberlake, Matthew Lillard
Rated: PG-13
Run Time: 111 min

As many of you know, I am a huge sports fan, and baseball is apex of all things sports in my mind. If I wasn't doing something with movies right now in my life, I would probably be trying to write for a baseball website or coach a little league team somewhere. So when I do get the chance to see a new movie about the game - and more importantly, write about it - I'm all over it. "Trouble With the Curve" was an emotional character drama, using baseball as the backdrop around each of these characters' lives. With strong performances from its two leads, the film rises itself above the standard character drama. But trying to work in the detailed nuances of baseball as its backbone, along with an unnecessary romantic comedy storyline added in as well, the film does lose a bit of its power along the way.

"Trouble With the Curve" tells the story of a man named Gus Lobel (Eastwood), who has been one of the best scouts in baseball for decades, and, despite his efforts to hide it, age is starting to catch up with him. Nevertheless, Gus - who can tell a pitch just by the crack of the bat - refuses to walk away in what may be the final months of his career. The front office of the Atlanta Braves is starting to question his judgment, especially with the country's hottest batting phenom on deck for the draft. The one person who might be able to help is also the one person Gus would never ask: his daughter, Mickey (Amy Adams), an associate at a high-powered Atlanta law firm whose drive and ambition has put her on the fast track to becoming partner. Against her better judgment, and over Gus's objections, Mickey joins him on his latest scouting trip to North Carolina, jeopardizing her own career to save his.

If you do decide to take in this movie, it will surely be Clint Eastwood's grizzled performance as an aging baseball scout that stands out as one of the best. Eastwood has played this type of cold and emotionally unavailable character before - his off-putting attitude reminds you of something akin to his character in "Gran Torino" - and while he really brings it home towards the end, I'm wondering if it might have been just a little too concealed to give us as viewers the emotional climax we hoped for. Eastwood is still such a presence to see on the screen in front of you, and regardless of his role, it still feels like magic to see him performing. I think it was a bit much though, and with the movie being nearly two-hours long, it felt like it might have been a little too intense for too much of the film.

Luckily, Amy Adams counters Eastwood's callous attitude with what I think might be some of the best work of her career. While Eastwood was in just about every scene, Adams was right behind with plenty of screen time of her own. Her performance as Gus' daughter, so unavailable herself over the years due to his barely-there emotions towards her, is the highlight of the film in my opinion. The transformation that she takes on in this final road trip with her father felt very natural and very powerful. And the charisma between her and Eastwood are what made this movie, and bumped it up to a level that otherwise wouldn't have been nearly as impressive. Whether or not any of this is based off of previous real-life experiences, I'm not sure, but I believed that she'd been here, and her portrayal of this character was very strong.

The movie itself takes on the same theme that Gus is dealing with in his career: can stats calculated on a computer tell the same story as looking at a guy first-hand and feeling the way he plays the game. Or, more boiled down for the overall theme of the film: just because something looks great on paper, doesn't always mean its the right fit. This is what Adams' character is dealing with in her personal life as well as her professional life. On paper, she has a great boyfriend that is a perfect match for her, and her career is well ahead of most her age. But on her trip with Gus, as he's trying to convince his organization that there is more than stats and numbers, she is realizing the same thing for herself. This is a great connection between the different aspects of this film, and surely one we'll see more of in the coming years, as the old school vs. new school debate continues to rise in baseball (for the record, even though I'm fairly young, I'm old school all the way. I love stats, and I could spend hours going through them, but I still don't think that computers can ever replace looking at a kid and knowing if he has what it takes).

Otherwise, the the rest of the film plays out in pretty prototypical fashion. There aren't many surprises along the way, or much to keep you guessing. The varying elements they try to work into the film get a little muddled, and at times I wish they would have picked a more focused direction to go with the film and stuck with it. Even though Adams' character needs the relationship with Timberlake's to prove to herself that she can go with her gut and let someone in, Timberlake's comedy gets in the way of the slow simmer baseball movie that is unfolding with every other scene. I think he did a fine job, I'm just not sure the entire arc with these two characters was completely necessary for this film. It already felt like there was a lot going on, and the romantic comedy elements seemed to get in the way more than anything. I didn't hate this element, I think I just wanted it scaled back a touch.

Overall, this was an enjoyable watch. It was easily the performances from our two stars that made this as a good a watch as it was, and kept it from feeling too trite even with many expected turns throughout. This wasn't an amazingly directed or shot film, but it did what it needed to do. The story is still funny and sweet, and it works as a powerful and honest father/daughter anecdote. But with so much going on in the film, it does feel like it gets muddled a bit at times, and I wish they would have refined more of how they wanted to approach this. It has a great and just ending that keeps us rooting for the old school ways, even when it appears everything is stacked against them. Our characters end up in near-ideal situations in the final scenes, but for characters that we truly wanted to root for, I was happy to see them all finally finding their place in life, even if it did all play out a little too perfectly.

There's a lot of love in this movie, and it shows through in nearly every scene. Don't expect this to be one of the greatest baseball movies you've ever seen - or even one of the best movies you'll see this year - but it's a charming watch that most all will be able to appreciate.