Let’s start this with what should be an uncontroversial statement: Clint Eastwood is not and never has been a good actor. He has spent his entire career playing the same thing: tough, grouchy (often to the point of being vicious), solitary men who, underneath the harsh exterior, have hearts of gold. From the beginning of the Man with No Name’s trilogy in 1964 to this film, Eastwood has really never tried to do anything else. The only difference between his recent work and his work from nearly a half-century ago is that he now spews seemingly innocuous bile and bizarre old-age jokes to create his own comic relief. Now, there is certainly a good point about that: He at least recognizes the limits of his talents and stops short of stretching himself places he’s not capable of going (except apparently the Republican National Convention). However, the fact that he has become such an iconic “actor” and been rewarded with two Best Actor Oscar nominations is frankly disturbing.
In Trouble with the Curve, Eastwood’s first performance in a film he did not direct himself since In the Line of Fire (Wolfgang Petersen, USA 1993), he does not stretch himself any further. The same attempts of humor that populated his over-celebrated performance in Gran Torino (Clint Eastwood, USA/Germany 2008) populate this film, and remain the only things separating him from the ’60s westerns that made him famous. He plays an old baseball scout with failing eyesight who is watching his job slowly disappear under the onslaught of computers and statistics (one of the many baseball stupidities in this film). Eastwood is a perfect casting decision, but also one who is not going to add anything to the film, which is, in a way, emblematic of the film’s myriad problems.
This is the type of film that always bothers me, because its strengths are mostly masked by glaring flaws that should have been obvious early on but may even have been added along the way. Fundamentally, the film’s biggest problem is that it has no idea what it’s about. Consider the plots that the film attempts:
- An aging baseball scout, seeing his job slowly replaced by computers and statistics in the modern world, makes his last stand.
- An aging baseball scout, obsessed with his job above all else, discovers that his eyesight is going and attempts to work through the job nonetheless.
- A 33-year-old lawyer whose life otherwise appears to be coming together finds out that her father is gravely ill and so attempts to repair their long-broken relationship.
- A long-absent father and his daughter find themselves trapped together on a road trip by circumstances, with a dark secret from their past haunting their every conversation.
- A lawyer finds herself in a relationship that, while it sounds good on paper, has no feeling and finds herself irresistibly (and supposedly inexplicably, though he is of course incredibly good looking) attracted to someone who does not fit her schema for life.
- Two young people who are connected only through their connection to one man, the woman’s biological father who was always absent and the man’s surrogate father to whom he had no biological connection, fall in love.
That’s six films, not one. When you try to tell all of these stories at once, what you actually do is tell a very thin, surface-level version of each, robbing it of all of the depth and emotional power it could have had. Further, look at those stories. Is this movie about the father, the daughter, their relationship, or the daughter’s other relationship? Using multiple plots like this can work if there is a single narrative thread, but a single thread isn’t here, so it doesn’t work.
It’s easy to see how the plots could have happened: the aging baseball scout losing his job to computers and stats mirrors the daughter’s change of relationships from the good-on-paper-but-passionless relationship to the opposite, the foil of the players he’s carefully mentored to the daughter he ignored emphasizes what he’s done with her, the fact that Amy Adams and Justin Timberlake playing the younger roles means that they are going to have to have a romance, and there needs to be some reason besides just being a bastard that the old man didn’t care for his daughter (after all, Eastwood can’t really be a bad guy). It could easily be that writer Randy Brown began with a screenplay telling any one of those stories and telling it well and then had these things added along the way for the sake of family-friendliness and/or commercialism (particularly the Adams/Timberlake romance). Someone should have realized that the film was way off course at some point–hell, Eastwood himself, for all his faults as an actor, is a very talented director who should have recognized the problems (though admittedly focus has been a problem of some of his films as well)–but it apparently never happened.
Visually, the film is actually a bit better than it deserves. It works on a full, saturated color palette that really fits the whole baseball story perfectly and while Robert Lorenz couldn’t be said to have done anything particularly interesting, that once-common look is now relatively rare in modern filmmaking and he certainly doesn’t do anything else that takes away from it. It’s not the most visually creative film, but it’s far from bad. Long-time Eastwood cinematographer Tom Stern and Lorenz deserve some credit for at least doing that much, especially considering the derision that Lorenz and Randy Brown deserve for so much of the film.
The only actors other than Eastwood with significant screen time are Amy Adams, who is really pretty bad in her performance, keeping a lightness and effervescence that does not befit the character. Meanwhile, that same type of lightness and effervescence is perfect for Justin Timberlake’s character, and he fits that perfectly. His charm and charisma are a perfect fit and he handles a simple role. The film doesn’t expect much of anyone except Adams, and she unfortunately fails.
And of course, no baseball film would be complete without making some ridiculous baseball mistakes. Eastwood is supposed to be scouting a high school baseball player (who is apparently playing the busiest high school schedule ever) the team wants to draft first overall. The “stats guy” (another problem: no one believes in reading stats out and ignoring scouting completely) and younger scout Timberlake both compare him to Albert Pujols and he’s a fat kid playing third base, but then the stats guy calls him a five-tool player. No corner player goes first in the draft, because there’s a limit to the upside of any such player and no high school third baseman can be considered someone who may have plus speed and defense. A left-handed pitcher with decent mechanics gets compared to Sandy Koufax as though that’s a good thing. Koufax had terrible mechanics and that’s why he flamed out young in spite of his unbelievable greatness. He also gets compared to Randy Johnson for his fastball when Johnson’s success was in fact almost entirely dependent on his slider. The Red Sox decide to pass on the kid they had ranked first for the draft based on the fact that a scout from another organization said, “He can’t hit the curve” and apparently the Sox have no interest in stats (which is of course the opposite of reality–the Red Sox are, along with the Rays and the Astros, perhaps the most SABR-friendly team in baseball). (This is really just scratching the surface. Over at his blog the Dish, baseball writer Keith Law called the film “an insult to anyone who works in the baseball industry.”)
Overall, this is a frustratingly bad movie with a lot of flaws. Not worth seeing.