, Newburyport, MA

September 23, 2012

Eastwood plays a little softball in 'Trouble with the Curve'

By Greg Vellante

---- — Clint Eastwood manages to pull off something tricky in “Trouble with the Curve”: He is both his typical crotchety self while also being a new Clint — milder and more vulnerable.

Here, Eastwood is a gently aging fatherly figure with a rough exterior, making this story of a senior baseball scout feel more wholesome once it arrives at the sentimental center of its storyline.

Eastwood has created a compelling, yet seemingly effortless, personality on screen. His acting style consists mainly of grunts and curse words. And every little sound or swear that comes from those lips is a small stroke of grumpy genius. My favorite part is the opening scene, when he kicks over a table and swears at it, directly after having a conversation with his aging genitalia on whether his morning urination will be difficult.

“I outlived you,” he tells said body parts.

In many ways, this is just your average Clint with a cantankerous attitude trumped only by that signature snarl deep within his legendary vocal chords. In other ways, there’s a certain meditative quality to his performance in “Trouble with the Curve.”

As Gus, an ailing scout arriving in his twilight years, the wrinkles on Eastwood’s face seem deeper. The role feels particularly rich and real. I cannot imagine anyone playing this role better than Eastwood does.

Gus’ arc takes him on what could be his last season as a baseball scout. A young big-shot (Matthew Lillard) is threatening to fire Gus in favor of computerized recruiting. With his eyes failing, his daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) joins him on the trip for a fair amount of baseball banter, character development and expected schmaltz.

It’s no “Moneyball,” yet this is one of the better baseball films of recent years — or sports films, for that matter. That’s largely because “Trouble with the Curve” is more about its characters than the sport. As much as baseball is a focus, so is Gus’ health, stability and process of aging.

Nearly identical screen time is given to Amy Adams in a sublime performance that breaks its character’s shell as it moves along, placing her in a lovely romantic subplot with a young scout played by Justin Timberlake. Their chemistry is potent.

Not necessarily hard-hitting but hardly hokey, “Trouble with the Curve” is a fair mix of crowd-pleasing fodder. While it isn’t an entirely cohesive emotional whole and is one of the lightest films I’ve seen all year, the film is charming — which is ironic, considering the source.

There’s a truly touching scene involving Eastwood, a gravestone and “You Are My Sunshine.” Never mind excessive sentiment, it’s hard not to be moved. And the impact is unexpected.

Oddly enough, Eastwood has moved from “Get off my lawn” to “Come into my heart.”