Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Trouble with the Curve (2012) – Review

Review: Trouble with the Curve is a great baseball movie – and almost a complete rebuttal to 2011’s Moneyball – that has not forgotten the most important ingredient to any film is good characters. It is about Gus, a scout for the Atlanta Braves, who is on his last legs professionally. The game is changing and his eyes are failing. He is sent out on what could be his final assignment to scout what many believe to be a sure thing. His daughter Mickey, who grew up on the road with him but now has a difficult relationship, decides to tag along to help her father out so he can keep his job and passion for a few more years.

Director Robert Lorenz knows the secret to what makes a good Hollywood-style film: relatable characters with a clear story arc. He also knows his target audience. Gus is lost in today’s world. He does not understand technology and he hates the way Sabermetrics are taking over the process by which talent is analyzed in baseball. It makes him, and all scouts (an important aspect that shapes of the game), obsolete. He is out to prove that a computer cannot really fully understand a player. Lorenz has multiple examples that make Gus’s point. He may be an ornery old man who is out of touch in a lot of ways, but he still is completely in tune with the game of baseball. This appeals in many ways to the audience. The audience (especially the targeted older movie-goers that make up Clint Eastwood’s typical demographic) relates to Gus because they feel the same way about the world that is becoming more and more technology savvy and dependent, leaving out generations. Trouble with the Curve is about a man fed up with this widening generational gap and that speaks to the target audience. Thus, the audience is very much invested in Gus. And, for other audience demographics, Lorenz has created a fleshed out character that can be related to through humor (as there is a fair amount of funny material).

Gus’s daughter Mickey is also a strong character that the audience can latch on to. She is a successful lawyer who loves her father but is frustrated by their lack of communication – a common theme in many families. The character also provides a nice juxtaposition to Eastwood’s strong-but-silent stoic character (that he is famous for), because she shows the issues that have been created between her and her father due to his lack of communication with her. The narrative (which does not really need her, though it would be a slightly different story without her) is all the more compelling because the audience sees the deconstruction of Eastwood’s own archetype.

As this is a Hollywood-style narrative, Lorenz does not shy away from having a fairly predictable and safe structure, complete with the happy ending. But, with this kind of film, the happy ending is not just expected it is demanded. Imagine the story of Gus being left by his daughter and eclipsed by technology (i.e. being wrong about the players while the computers are right). The story would be rather dark and would end with Gus probably killing himself or letting himself go in humiliating total defeat. It would be heartbreaking. Trouble with the Curve, however, is not this type of him and that is not the type of film that Eastwood’s target audience wants to see. However, that being said, the film’s narrative structure does leave it feeling a little lazy and wrapped up in a nice Hollywood bow. For some, this will hurt the film, as the structure and character archetypes will feel overly played out and tired (and too safe). But, taking the film at face value, the narrative works well for the story that Eastwood and Lorentz want to tell.

I have said before that baseball translates itself to cinema better than any other sport, as it seems to have the most human aspect to it. It is a game that is specifically about individual achievement, while still being a team sport. A pitcher and hitter are alone as they face one and other. And thus, it lends itself perfectly to being inhabited by great characters as a backdrop. Baseball seems to accentuate the human emotions and drama of the characters, as it is a very nostalgic pastime for the audience. So, to make a great baseball movie, a filmmaker merely needs well-drawn characters in a baseball setting (with seemingly a hint of wonder and majesty), and have a love of the game – which is evident in all involved in this film. It is also a great baseball movie because it gets back to the quirky and magical intricacies that make baseball the special wondrous game that it is, and away from the dehumanizing numbers that dominate today. As someone that seems to be drawn to nostalgic things from my childhood, I like this, as I remember the fun I had in little league. The film speaks to both the fan and child just playing the game in all of us.

Trouble with the Curve is going to work best for those that like and understand baseball (though it is not a mandatory requirement) and enjoy good characters and well done character drama.

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: Robert Lorenz makes his feature debut with Trouble with the Curve. He served as Clint Eastwood’s producing partner on Eastwood’s last ten films (as well as second-unit director on a few others) prior to this. Lorenz decided to take a very straightforward approach to the material, shooting it in a very typical Hollywood style (standard coverage), which worked for the material.

Marco Beltrami’s score is also fairly standard – emphasizing the dramatic beats. Tom Stern’s cinematography and James J. Murakami’s production design work with the Hollywood style aesthetic of Lorenz’s narrative as well. The photography is glossy, making even the small town ballparks look majestic and magical (being a common theme in baseball movies), while the production design reinforces the characters and narrative. It is very good work (as to be expected from these two).

For a character drama like this to work, the performances must be good. In Trouble with the Curve, the performances are the strongest aspect of the film. John Goodman and Matthew Lillard are good in smaller roles. Justin Timberlake brings a lot of charisma and likability to the film, as well as a change of pace from the more stubborn and combative leads. Amy Adams is maybe the best part of the film. She plays Mickey to be very strong and independent, but still insecure when it comes to her father. I also really liked the fact that she is completely in love with baseball, and cannot fight it, even in her grownup life. Clint Eastwood plays the same old gruff, cantankerous and grumpy man that he seems to always being playing these days (see Gran Torino or Million Dollar Baby for reference). And as usual, it works to great effect. He is compelling and has fun with it.

Summary & score: Trouble with the Curve is really just the same old Hollywood style drama about two characters learning to connect that we have seen hundreds of times and thus is very predictable, but with great characters and a baseball setting the film is still very engaging. 7/10


  1. Adams, Eastwood, and Timberlake all do fine jobs in their roles, but the script really carries them down when it decides to go back to formula. You can see everything coming a mile away with this one. Nice review Geoffrey.

  2. Thanks. From the time the kid throws the peanuts to the 'slugger' you already know what is going to happen, but I still enjoyed the characters.