Trouble with the curve
There was a time when Clint Eastwood was synonymous with macho strength and a cool, flinty invincibility. Whereas other men of action have clung onto their muscles (yes, Mr Stallone, you), Eastwood has instead embraced his frailness by becoming the classic grumpy old man. It worked so well for him in Gran Torino that it seems his geezer in Trouble with Curve could well be the same character. Factor in his recent bizarre performance at the Republican National Convention (where he spoke to an invisible Obama) and perhaps the pale rider is no longer acting. Perhaps he’s just a batty old man with more senior citizen moments than a geriatric cruise ship.
That said, he’s still very watchable. In Trouble with Curve, Eastwood plays an aging baseball scout who’s given one last player assessment to prove he still has it. With his failing eyesight and the rise of computer-based statistical modelling, he faces an uphill struggle. Enter his daughter, Amy Adams, a successful young lawyer who struggles to connect with her father despite repeated attempts. Realising that if he fails he’ll lose his job, she joins him on the road. Her offer of help is driven by her desire to manufacture as much quality time as possible with her father, however frustrating that may be. Along the way she meets Justin Timberlake, a fellow scout, whose charm (he’s given the best lines) manages to make her reassess her work-driven life.
It’s the father-daughter relationship which forms the dominant story though. Eastwood’s failing eyesight is an unsubtle metaphor for his emotional blindness. He’s simply unable to see or process any of his daughter’s long held grievances. It isn’t that he can’t change; he just doesn’t feel like he can. It’s really only when she accepts that she has to love him for who he is, not who she wants him to be, that their relationship starts to develop. That’s the first step in a film overwhelming about reconciliation and listening to your gut.
In fact, the film’s message is almost the exact opposite of Brad Pitt’s baseball manager in Moneyball, where sabermetrics (the statistical art of selecting players based on raw performance data) proves the undoing of the scout’s traditional methods. In the recent American election, while pundits (particularly on the right) insisted it was too close to call, number crunchers (like the New York Times blogger, Nate Silver) kept saying that Obama was an overwhelming favourite. The talking heads on TV relied on their guts, their hunches, their years of experience, which is why they saw nothing but a close-run race. But it was Silver who had the last laugh – he correctly predicted the outcome of all 50 states- not to mention the fact that ultimately, Obama easily won the race. The pundits’ guts had failed them. Perhaps Eastwood’s Republican roots are showing in a movie which tries to reassert the value of the hunch.
It’s a very comfortable film, almost old-fashioned, but also too sentimental and ridiculously predictable. There are no unexpected surprises or twists. You can spot the good and bad guys a mile way. Everyone gets what they deserve in the end. It’s all super-sweet and feel-good. And it’s about baseball which is as American as apple pie and drone strikes.
At the press screening I couldn’t help noticing that while the theatre was mostly full, there were still a few empty chairs. But then again, Clint Eastwood is no stranger to talking to empty chairs.