Mr. Eastwood, Pull Up a Bleacher

I know people who actually vowed to stay away from Clint Eastwood’s latest movie, Trouble with the Curve, because of the Hollywood legend’s look-away-embarrassing performance at the Republican National Convention with the Obamaless chair. I screwed up my face at that notion. A generation of Giants fans kept coming to games to see the on-field expertise of Barry Bonds, even as they cringed at his standoffish locker room behavior and grating insistence on referring to himself in the third person, as if he were somehow royal.

So despite my political differences with Eastwood, I was happy to settle in for this picture, a pleasing film whose chief strength is that it’s a real human story masquerading as a baseball movie. All the best baseball movies  — Bang the Drum SlowlyPride of the YankeesField of Dreams — used the drama of the game to set in relief deeper stories of love, loss, redemption, and life’s habit of remolding our dreams into better ambitions. Curve, even with its occasionally patchy script, joins that all-star cinematic lineup.

Team players: Amy Adams and Clint Eastwood are a baseball family in Trouble with the Curve.

Eastwood is an aging major league scout whose eyesight, the foundation of his skills, is eroding. His daughter, played by the increasingly skilled Amy Adams, is a high-powered Atlanta lawyer who allows herself to be distracted from the case that will make her career so she can help her gruff and irritatingly independent Dad. As ego-puffed high school prospects, youth-movement front-office nerks, and hyper-competitive lawyers looking for partnerships cross the scene, Adams’ daddy issues and Eastwood’s problems with aging get exposed like a rookie swing.

And it’s here that Eastwood and Adams display the best of their craft. Adams shows nuances of face and voice that fly nonstop to the heart. She’s gotten so good at it that you forget (temporarily) that she is beautiful in an honest way, the complete antithesis of the usual Hollywood stick-figure, forever-teenager ethic. Eastwood, now 82, is simply steeped in experience, every wrinkle earned — way past the Man with No Name. Sure, the irascible part of an old man is easy to play when you’re past 80. But the important stuff — none of it gets by him. The brief scene of his solo visit to his wife’s grave is worth ten times the price of admission. And as Kenneth Turan said in his review on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, seeing Eastwood make an elderly character so real pays proper attention to a slice of humanity that Hollywood usually ignores in favor of the young, taut, and pretty.

And it’s these moments that make up for a few clunky writing bumps and a that’s-a-stretch resolution of the story, which will take a little disbelief suspension for real baseball fans. These lapses are not enough of a problem to distract from Curve‘s other pleasant surprises, to wit: Justin Timberlake doing an actual sensitive job of acting as a young scout who is attracted to Adams’ character (that alone makes him believable), and John Goodman in yet another movie he didn’t kill.

Trouble with the Curve is more a heart-twister than a heart-pounder, to be sure, and the story might even be considered predictable. But, as one of my favorite play-by-play guys used to say, a bloop is as good as a blast — or a walk is as good as a hit, or something like that. In any event, this movie reaches, and in a significant way, scores.

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