Gus Lobel don’t need no stinkin’ computer to do his job for him. He’s been a baseball scout for over thirty years now, mostly for the Atlanta Braves, and he’s helped sign some of the all time greats such as Greg Maddox and Chipper Jones during his tenure, just to name a few. He may be on the tail end of his career, but just like John Henry wasn’t about to give in to that blasted hammer swinging contraption, he’s not about to see his job go to a bunch of young punks whose only true baseball knowledge comes from the comfort of their keyboards. It’s not intended to be really, but you could almost consider this film to be an answer to the Brad Pitt movie ‘Moneyball’, in which Pitt played the first manager to seriously, and successfully, implement a computer based statistical system to the game to calculate a player’s overall value, and to help determine which players to sign and which ones not to. In this movie Gus counter argues that a computer can never replace a man due to the number of important variables that come up in the game itself and with the players themselves. For instance a computer can’t tell you whether or not a guy will crack under the pressure of a big game, or how he will handle the added pressure of switching from the minors to the majors etc. That’s the subtext here anyway, that software no matter how finely programmed will always come up short against good old fashioned human intuition and instincts.
In ‘Moneyball’ the exact opposite is argued as the old scouts in that movie are all summarily fired due to not getting more in tune with the times. They’re both good solid movies in any event, and after watching them both I am left wandering just which one of them is correct. The answer is probably somewhere in the middle, but if you’re in the mood for a baseball movie weekend, rent both ‘Moneyball’ and ‘Trouble With The Curve’ and see how well they fit together as kind of a point-counter point to each other as far as the issue of computers and Baseball go. Be forewarned though, since both of these movies deal more with the behind the scenes guys, such as the team manager in ‘Moneyball’ and the scout in ‘Trouble With The Curve’ you don’t get your typical sports drama routine where you follow a team or a player through a season with a ton of montages and a whole lot of scenes of actual baseball being played culminating in ‘the big game’. Anyway, I may now have to dig up and review ‘Moneyball’ now after that big comparative opening, but for now it would probably be wise if I stuck to just reviewing one movie per post here, and for the purposes of this review, that movie is Clint Eastwood’s latest flick ‘Trouble With The Curve’.
Clint Eastwood plays Gus Lobel, a grizzled old baseball scout whose eyes, among other bodily organs, are just beginning to fail him. It’s been a while since Gus had a major signing to his credit and his co-workers are getting quite concerned, to say the least. His biggest current prospect, Billy Clark (Played by Scott Eastwood, Clint’s grandson) is in a serious slump hitting wise, and after a little pow-wow session with Gus we learn the reason is simply because he is homesick and misses his family, to which Gus’s all too human solution is to have the Braves pay for Billy’s family to be flown down to watch his next game, a decision that is met with considerable friction. The team manager, played by Robert Patrick, and prodded on by the tech savvy young scout with all his new fangled computerized stats, played by Matthew Lillard (Most well known from his role in the first Scream movie) lead the charge for Gus to be forced into early retirement. His only help from within the team comes in the form of John Goodman’s character Pete Klein who plays the chief of scouting operations for the Braves, and on top of that, Gus’s long time friend, fan, and confidant. The draft is coming up very soon, and there’s a really hot prospect playing down in North Carolina that Gus is sent to review. This will naturally be his big test to see if he can still hack it or not and there is big pressure for him to sign this kid, for whom the computer says is a sure-fire can’t miss prospect, and who has been a hot streak lately with the home runs. Gus of course, in the tradition of all great Clint Eastwood characters is not one to be easily bullied or otherwise bossed around, an he’s certainly not one to give into mindless groupthink. If he is going down, he is going down swinging.
Amy Adams plays Mickey Sobel, Gus’s daughter with whom he has a dysfunctional but personable relationship most of the time. Mickey grew up around baseball (and was named after Mickey freakin Mantle for pete’s sake) traveling with her dad, and still maintains a great passion for and knowledge about the sport. But now she is a big time lawyer who, depending on the results of her latest case, has a chance at making partner at her firm. She also has a serious boyfriend who we sense is way more committed to her than she is to him. “You have to admit that, on paper, we make a great team” he says to her in a dinner scene proposal, echoing the underlying theme of the movie, that it’s not always about what’s on paper or in the statistical spreadsheets that make the biggest impact in life’s key decisions. Of course, the machinations of this movie’s plot force her to choose between helping her father, who is as noted, going blind, save his job by traveling with him to North Carolina to be his eyes basically, or instead giving her full attention to the legal case that is before her, and going to the next level with her current love interest.
Justin Timberlake plays Johnny Flanagan, a scout for the Red Sox whose big dream is to one day become a big time baseball announcer. When first we meet him he embarrasses himself by doing his best Harry Carey imitation while watching a group of kids playing ball in a field. Johnny was once a hot shot pitching prospect for the Braves, scouted by Gus himself. He had a one hundred mile per hour fast ball and seemingly a bright future in the big leagues, but after agreeing to a trade that Gus tried like hell to block, Johnny blew out his arm and prematurely ended his very promising career. Johnny looks to Gus like a wise old mentor and a father figure, even though now his job puts him in a position as Gus’s new adversary. Now Gus, Johnny, and Mickey are all congregated down in a small North Carolina town to watch this hot new prospect. The first prospect Johnny notices however, is not anyone on the field, but instead Gus’s daughter herself. And if you can’t see where that is heading, my friend, you have simply not watched enough movies.
This is Clint Eastwood’s first acting role since ‘Gran Torino’, and the first movie he has appeared in under a director other than himself, since 1993’s ‘In the Line of Fire’. (He is however, a producer on this film.) And as far as acting chops go, I don’t really think I need to comment. It is still great fun to just sit back and watch Clint Eastwood be his usual ornery and pissed off old self. Whether he’s cursing his own private parts while trying to take a piss, or threatening to dispose of the young punk at a bar who had the extreme foolishness of trying to mess with his daughter, Clint Eastwood is simply as badass and entertaining as ever. All the other actors here do a commendable job as well, especially Timberlake and Adams, but Eastwood simply eclipses and elevates everything in a way no other actor still with us ever could, armed with nothing but his sheer screen presence. Even if he weren’t a pretty great actor, which he is, that presence alone is still strong enough make a decent movie good, and a good movie great, of which I would say the former is true in this case.
‘Trouble With The Curve’ isn’t entirely or even mostly about baseball, but about the value of humanity against over reliance on technology. Thrown in for good measure is a back story about the relationship between Gus and his daughter that is indeed the stuff of a Lifetime movie of the week, and a romantic subplot with Mickey and Johnny that is sweet and tender, but never really develops into something you really care too much about. I won’t spoil whether or not Gus manages to save his job or not or how well the prospect does, as the title of the movie itself gives out that much information for me. This movie is full of obvious plot machinations and the ending is resolved in a satisfying, but very convenient and somewhat forced manner (that goes along with the aforementioned subtext of humans vs. computers), that anyone watching will probably see coming a mile away.
But that said, the real treat of this movie is basically just watching Clint Eastwood be Clint Eastwood. This is the movie to pop in when the kids are over who perhaps aren’t old enough to be exposed to the vulgar and racist Eastwood in the great ‘Gran Torino’. As this movie has all of the old “get off my lawn” crotchety-ness, and none (or at least a lot less) of the racial epithets and foul language. This is by no means a great movie, but it is a very enjoyable one, mainly due to the talent of the actors involved, and the general sweetness and good heart of the story. All the obvious manipulations of the plot and overall predictability, plus the tacked on melodrama, take it down a notch from what it perhaps could have been, but the performance of Eastwood and the other main actors pick up the slack and keep ‘Trouble With The Curve’ firmly in the strike zone. That’s all for this review. As always, thanks for reading.
Trouble With The Curve gets a three out of five: GOOD.