Let’s just try and forget Clint Eastwood’s depressing ramblings and his argument with a chair at the Republican National Convention. Instead, let’s move on to the opening scene of Trouble with the Curve, in which the beloved octogenarian screen icon makes a far more dignified entrance, arguing with his dick.
There’s a startling amount of screen time spent watching Eastwood stand over the toilet bowl attempting to pee, muttering under his breath at every halting trickle, finally staring downward and cursing his member: “Well, at least I outlived you, you son of a bitch.”
And in that moment, all was forgiven. Even J. Edgar.
Cary Grant retired too early because he thought people didn’t want to see Cary Grant get old. Other stars disfigure themselves with ghastly plastic surgery, and then they join The Expendables. Eastwood is perhaps alone in the way he has embraced the mileage worn over six decades onscreen, only coming into his own as an actor in the latter third of his career, when he could finally play men fallen half-a-step behind, haunted by regret and fully aware that the clock is running out. Eastwood proudly wears his pants pulled high above his waistline.
He is never less than delightful in Trouble with the Curve, an otherwise lousy movie helmed by his longtime assistant director Robert Lorenz. Eastwood stars as Gus Lobel, a crotchety old baseball scout trying to cling to his job with the Atlanta Braves despite the fact that he’s quite obviously going blind. There’s nobody better at being a curmudgeon, growling and cussing before displaying stray moments of unexpected delicacy—like when he pours half a beer into a glass and rests it on the headstone during a visit to his wife’s grave. Gus drinks his own half from the bottle.
In case you didn’t see that Brad Pitt movie last year, the game of baseball has changed. Matthew Lillard is an oafish villain with a laptop computer in the front office, claiming he has algorithms that can do Gus’ job with 10 times the efficiency. A cuddly John Goodman is on hand to provide moral support for Eastwood’s old guard, but mostly he just seems to be around so we can watch a couple of sublimely relaxed pros bust each other’s balls.
Gus’ semi-estranged daughter Mickey (named for Mantle, natch) steps in to try and do what she can. Played by Amy Adams, she’s never quite believable and yet never not adorable as a baseball-obsessed tomboy who channeled her sad, lonely childhood into corporate lawyer-dom and emotional unavailability.
A credulity-stretching road-trip to North Carolina ensues, and there’s really not all that much going on in Randy Brown’s determinedly low-stakes screenplay. Well, at least not much besides the pleasure of watching the lead performances, rounded out here by Justin Timberlake as a former pitching protégé of Gus’ who blew out his shoulder. There’s a crazy generational dissonance watching Eastwood pal around with Timberlake. But it quickly dissolves when you see the conspiratorial glint in both their eyes, taking enormous enjoyment out of riding Mickey’s last nerve.
Trouble with the Curve doesn’t just remind you what a great screen presence Clint Eastwood is; it makes you appreciate him even more as a director because Lorenz does such a terrible job. Eastwood can often get away with scripts this shoddy thanks to his elegant compositions, deep shadows and sparse musical scores providing a constant melancholy undertow. He even makes Paul Haggis screenplays into good movies.
But perhaps not wanting to seem too influenced by his mentor, Lorenz garishly over-lights the picture, with haphazard framing and slo-mo money shots highlighted in bold by a deafening soundtrack that should be placed on trial for putting the audience in an illegal chokehold.
That ambling, quiet pace Eastwood usually excels at here translates to lumpy and distended, thanks to all the needless histrionics. Trouble with the Curve is the first picture Eastwood has acted in without directing since 1993’s In the Line of Fire, and it feels like a favor to an old friend.
Yet still, I somehow sort of enjoyed it anyways, if only for the chance to spend a little more time with my favorite movie star. I think we all saw Gran Torino as Eastwood’s rather brazenly self-conscious retirement speech from his acting career. He’s back here, in a film that hardly deserves him. But that’s better than nothing.