POOR Clint Eastwood. For decades he sat high in the saddle and made our day. Then in August 2012, he abused an empty chair during the presidential elections and suddenly even Mitt Romney seemed a more convincing actor.
Trouble With The Curve (12A)
Director: Robert Lorenz
Running time: 111 minutes
Now he returns to movies to conduct another one-way conversation, this time with what we should probably call Little Clint. At the beginning of Trouble With The Curve, he wants to pee but Little Clint and his prostate pal are unco-operative. Eventually of course, Clint triumphs. “Don’t laugh,” he remonstrates with his fellow old Republican. “I outlasted you, ya little bastard.”
Eastwood has outlasted many of his peers; an actor for 56 years, a director for 40 and at 82 he still looks lean, sinewy and ornery. He’s a pungent presence, even in something as hokey as this well-intentioned hymn to age and experience.
Eastwood’s Gus has been a baseball talent scout all his working life, but now health and the boardroom are giving him a hard time. His eyesight is failing – although he can hear a good pitch by the sound the ball makes against the bat – and back at the club an obnoxious slick upstart (Matthew Lillard) would rather rely on stats than Gus. In that sense, this is the opposite tack to last year’s Moneyball, in which Brad Pitt overthrew the fuddy-duddies and embraced number-crunching technology.
It’s ironic that a film which scorns algorithms feels so by-the-numbers and conventional. Grouchy Gus has an estranged daughter called Mickey (Amy Adams), who feels baseball has taken up all his time. She’s now a lawyer, but clearly hankers for the days when she used to hang out in the bleachers with her dad, discussing gameplay; so when one of Gus’s pals (John Goodman) confides that her father is having problems, she ditches everything to join him on the road, although she’s just one successful case away from being made a partner.
You don’t have to be able to read a pitchman’s signals so see where that ball is heading. The same applies to Justin Timberlake as a former baseball player who turns up on the trip as a rival scout with a genuine fondness for Gus and a growing pull towards Mickey.
Curve is directed by Robert Lorenz, who has worked with Eastwood as a producer and assistant director for many years, and shares his bluntly direct style. Curves, or any sort of deviation from the straight and narrow, seem to elude Lorenz, who has pulled together a basic team effort which crudely exploits our attachment to Eastwood as an icon of old warrior machismo, in a mixture of carefully applied grumpy git and the occasional glimpse of cockle-warming reconciliation. Too often it aims low, particularly in a scene where Eastwood sings You Are My Sunshine to his wife’s grave (engraved under her name: “May the Lord grant you extra innings”).
Eastwood has been preparing us for his old age since the 1990s, when he faced retirement in The Rookie. As an astronaut he joked about unreliable bladder control in Space Cowboys, and in Gran Torino he yelled at kids to get off his lawn. I do hope Trouble With The Curve is not his swan song – not just because when a film is this lifeless you long for an empty chair of your own, but because I’d love to see Clint hit a real curveball out the park one more time. «
On general release from Friday