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Movie Review: Though Deeply Conventional, TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE Still Proves Reasonably Engaging

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The father-daughter baseball drama Trouble with the Curve is no late-season masterwork from filmmaker Clint Eastwood – anyone expecting this film to swoop in and devastate à la Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby will be sorely disappointed – but it is good.  For me, that was more than enough.  With the exception of his Gran TorinoInvictus one-two punch, Eastwood has been off his game for the past few years; Hereafter got bogged down in narrative contrivances and faux-profundities, while J. Edgar packaged the complexities of CIA director J. Edgar Hoover’s personal and professional lives into a staid, deeply confused biopic.  Maybe it’s a matter of expectations: I expect that the guy behind Unforgiven and A Perfect World can – and should – do better.

For Trouble with the Curve, however, Eastwood makes one key change: he passes the directorial reins to his producing partner Robert Lorenz.  Based on this one movie, Lorenz doesn’t seem to possess the full range of effects that Eastwood-at-his-best has; he lacks Eastwood’s measured intensity, and his shot compositions rarely exceed the functional (huzzah, though, for Lorenz getting Eastwood’s long-time cinematographer to lighten his color scheme from the funereal gray it’s been for almost ten years).

Ultimately, though, this workmanlike eye proves ideal.  Randy Brown’s script is as conventional as these things get.  To sum up, it’s the anti-Moneyball, a story about the last hurrah of Gus Lobel (Eastwood), a grizzled baseball scout whose failing health is impacting his job performance.  Against the wishes of his team’s managers (Robert Patrick and a smug Matthew Lillard), Lobel gets to make one last recruiting trip, but with one stipulation: his estranged, resentful daughter (Amy Adams) must supervise his progress.  What transpires shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s ever seen a movie ever, but Lorenz, to his credit, doesn’t try to play the text bigger than it should be.  He understands that Trouble with the Curve is a fairly low-key lark, and he lets the film unfold at an easy, no-stakes pace.  The end result works far better than it should; never does Trouble with the Curve risk achieving anything resembling greatness, but Lorenz’s light touch and a great cast keep the picture humming along.

Hell, if the whole movie were just Eastwood and Adams sparring with one another for two hours, it would be worthwhile.  This is a movie that features winning, effortlessly likeable supporting turns from John Goodman and Justin Timberlake, yet all we want to see is our two leads working.  Movie stars are like that: they elevate the watchable into something more.  As Lobel, Eastwood has the showier role; he’s firmly ensconced in “Get off my lawn territory,” but as in Gran Torino, part of the fun is in watching this old coot soften and accept his diminished status in the scout world as well as the responsibility he had in damaging his daughter’s adolescence.  In its review last September, The Onion AV Club commented on the irony of “the progressive streak of the material Eastwood chooses as an actor-director [being] periodically at odds with his recent grumpy-old-man, chair-abusing appearance at the Republican National Convention,” though that disconnect doesn’t make his work here any less effective.  Even at the character’s most unpleasant, Eastwood uses his movie-star charm to keep you invested in Lobel’s redemption.

And Adams continues to prove why she’s one of the most gifted and empathetic actresses working today.  She, too, has a familiar arc – she has to establish her credibility in the boys’ club that is baseball and discover her father’s innate goodness – yet she approaches this material as if it were sui generis.  Adams is so subtle, letting the film’s clunkier plot shifts play across her face gently rather loudly telegraphing her reactions, and she helps imbue Trouble with the Curve with a restraint it might otherwise lack.

Trouble with the Curve ends in clichés, but Lorenz and his cast toss this tired material off with enthusiasm and effortless craft.  There’s something to be said for watching an old standard sung well.  In that example, “good” might not be “great,” but it works just the same.

Warner’s Blu-ray/DVD/UltraViolet combo pack certainly looks and sounds terrific.  DP Tom Stern’s photography gets a crisp, detailed HD transfer, and the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, while not terribly aggressive, is clean and audible.  I only wish we’d gotten a bit more in the way of special features – the two featurettes, “Rising Through the Ranks” and “For the Love of the Game” – comprise just over ten minutes of footage.

Trouble with the Curve isn’t great Clint Eastwood, but it is good Clint Eastwood; he and Amy Adams lift tired conventions into something engaging and entertaining.

Trouble with the Curve is now available on Blu-ray Combo pack, DVD and for download; click HERE for Amazon’s listing.  Also, show your Trouble with the Curve support on Twitter with the hashtag # TroubleWithTheCurve, and visit Trouble with the Curve‘s official Facebook page HERE.