Clint Eastwood plays an veteran baseball scout who – you guessed it – prefers to do things the old fashioned way.
Baseball is a game of details. Hitting the cutoff man with an accurate throw, stealing a bag or laying down a sacrifice bunt are all seemingly small moments that can change the course of a game, even a season. In this sense, it’s a sport that demands an observational eye from player, coach and fan alike, an unparalleled attention to nuance.
But it’s also a game of attitude. The way you conduct yourself during a game often reflects your compassion and humility off the field, or lack thereof. Maybe more so than ever, in our self-obsessed, glory-hungry, egomaniacal modern age, America’s pastime stands as a litmus test for character.
Robert Lorenz’s unapologetically old-fashioned sports film Trouble With The Curve examines such a human dilemma, one that ends up defining a crisis of methodology dominating current baseball politics. In the vein of Bull Durham, the film takes place in the backcountry roads and bars of the South, friendly confines for the grizzled old scouts trying to sign the next Albert Pujols.
One such talent tracker is Gus (Clint Eastwood), a grumpy icon of the trade who’s slowly losing his eyesight. Somewhat estranged from his lawyer daughter Mickey (Amy Adams), Gus lives and breathes baseball and its history. He surveys stacks of newspapers for data and develops personal relationships with the players, investing time and energy into their psychological well-being.
In contrast, his younger counterpart and direct competition (a smarmy Matthew Lillard) coldly inputs numbers into a computer programme, going out of his way to disrespect Gus’ process and threaten his job.
Almost a direct response to Moneyball’s attempts to humanise the intellectual men who favour stat-heavy analytics, Trouble With The Curve celebrates the rigorous study of player personality, rhythm and demeanour. It also villainises arrogance and ego. The human intangibles matter most to Lorenz, so much so that his film often bleeds schmaltz.
When Mickey attempts to reconnect with Gus as he embarks on a road trip to scout a trendy young talent from North Carolina, the director glorifies the smaller moments shared between a father and daughter equally haunted by baseball’s allure. This pure passion also inhabits a young scout named Johnny (Justin Timberlake), who develops a special affinity for Mickey’s sassiness. It feels entirely apt that their screwball-style flirting consists of one-upping each other with baseball trivia.
While Trouble With The Curve is unabashedly sunny and hopeful, even when it diverges into serious subject matter like ageing and regret, the film makes for a rousing bit of American classicism. Its clear-cut themes resonate profoundly, most notably because they combat a pervasive negativity and short-sightedness that feels directly fused with the money-hungry core of modern American sports.
Acts of selfishness, perpetrated by children, teens and adults alike, reveal crippling weaknesses of character that ultimately undermine any natural talent on display. Even if the rousing ending reeks of sudden and comfortable closure, it exists to advocate the worthy idea that patience trumps opportunism.
It’s entirely fitting, then, that Trouble With The Curve ends by connecting its moral and ethical dynamics with a classic baseball truth: great pitching will always defeat great hitting.
The lumbering and grouchy trailer promised Gran Torino-lite.
Students of baseball will enjoy Lorenz’s passion for detail and history.
A warm bit of American classicism with essential themes of humility and sportsmanship.