Recent political events have suggested that Clint Eastwood’s grumbling hubris may extend farther than the crabby-old-guy persona he’s adopted in his movies for the last twenty years (from its beginnings in 1991’s Unforgiven to its critical mass in 2008’s Gran Torino). As a man so set in his ways he’d rather embarrass himself massively than take anyone’s advice, Eastwood the RNC-ranter seems to have a lot in common with Gus Lobel, the octogenarian Atlanta Braves talent scout he plays in Trouble with the Curve.
An 82-year-old uber-vet of scouting, Lobel has fallen out of step with the changing face of baseball (those same changes explored in last year’s excellent Moneyball) not only because of his advanced age, but because he’s going blind in a profession that’s all about having a keen eye. He spends most of the movie stodgily ignoring the good advice of the people who love him. His boss and protector, Pete (John Goodman), can’t get him to retire so he enlists the help of Gus’s daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) to at least convince him to seek help for his sight. What happens instead — and takes up the majority of Curve’s runtime — is the father and daughter slowly mending old wounds as she helps him scout minor league players somewhere in the lovely hills of North Carolina. Justin Timberlake shows up, doing his impression of acting, as Johnny, a young scout for the Red Sox competing for a number one draft pick who’s also in debt to Gus’s old timer’s wisdom and in love with his daughter. Not one thing happens in the entire film that you wouldn’t expect from such a tidy setup.
All of which makes it sadly unsurprising that Trouble with the Curve, Eastwood’s return from four years of acting-retirement (and the only one of his films he hasn’t directed in 19 years), is resolutely an old man’s movie, repeatedly relying on old man humor like the actor taking a difficult-to-squeeze 82-year-old piss in the morning while having a droll conversation with his penis (he’s apparently got a fetish for talking to things that can’t talk back) or delivering lines like, “Get out of here before I have a heart attack trying to kill you.” But what is surprising about Curve — the only thing — is that it’s not just about old men. Its particulars are also stubbornly anachronistic: the stolid framing and editing rhythm, the clear, plain, almost washed-out colors, the insistence on turning away from anything even remotely innovative. The one thing that couldn’t be said about Eastwood’s RNC performance is exactly what kills this film: it’s safe and predictable.