Baseball takes a back seat to a prickly, jousty father-daughter relationship in Robert Lorenz's well-crafted directorial debut, "Trouble With the Curve," a funny, punny title referring, of course, to more than just a pitching style.
This is a solid, conservative piece of filmmaking elevated greatly by the sparky chemistry between Amy Adams' tough, up-and-coming corporate attorney and Clint Eastwood's aging Atlanta Braves baseball scout, a crusty curmudgeon doing the best he can to give his daughter more than "the cheap seats" in life.
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"Trouble With the Curve"★ ★ ★ ½
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman
Directed by: Robert Lorenz
Other: A Warner Bros. release. Rated PG-13 for language, sexual situations and smoking. 111 minutes
"Trouble With the Curve" also presents a cinematic rebuttal to "Moneyball," the tech-worshipping sports drama emphasizing statistics and computer programs in picking players, rather than relying on old school scouts who use instinct, experience and intuition to spot talent.
"Anyone who uses computers doesn't know anything about this game!" Eastwood's Gus Lobel shouts. "Great scouts are the heart of this game!"
Lately, though, Gus' eyesight has been blurry and his picks not so sterling, leading one of the Braves executives (Matthew Lillard) to call for his resignation.
Pete (John Goodman), one of Gus' team buddies, asks Gus' daughter Mickey (Adams) to intervene. Just spend some time with Gus and figuratively get him back in the game. Or else.
Mickey has only been married to her job. She has worked her butt off to make partner in a big-city legal firm clearly ruled by alpha males.
She's got a big project coming up that will determine if she gets that partnership. Still, she agrees to spend some time with her old, old man out of a sense of daughterly duty.
Mickey and Gus automatically generate a palpable sense of quiet discomfort between them, along the lines of Henry Fonda's and Jane Fonda's dad-and-daughter emo deflector shields in "On Golden Pond."
Even so, Gus reluctantly allows Mickey to help him scout new talent, most notably the hottest draft pick (Joe Massingill) whom everyone wants to sign.
Gus isn't so sure about him. But he has to be right. His job's on the line.
Just when Mickey and Gus trundle down that well-worn Hollywood path toward sacrifice and reconciliation, Randy Brown's first produced screenplay supplies a snappy and welcome obligatory romantic subplot.
A scout for the Boston Red Sox shows up. His name is Johnny and he's played with charm and comic self-effacement by Justin Timberlake. He knows just enough about baseball to get along with Gus and just enough about women to get along with Mickey. He supplies a lighter counterweight to the domestic angst.
Lorenz, a graduate of Palatine's Fremd High School, has worked with Eastwood as an assistant director or producer for almost 20 years, and he has paid close attention to how the veteran filmmaker creates classically constructed, no-frills storytelling.
"Trouble With the Curve" represents an auspicious debut for Lorenz, significantly aided by Tom Stern's crisp widescreen cinematography and Marco Beltrami's pleasantly agreeable score.
These support two incredible, across-the-plate performances: Adams, for her restrained portrait of a daughter grappling with a lifetime of perceived paternal abandonment; and Eastwood for his steely rendering of a guilt-stricken widower who couldn't be the protective mother he instinctively knows his daughter needed.
This is vintage Clint, a hardscrabble guy with a confused but good heart buried within.
Brown's screenplay feels tailor-made for its star, right down to Gus' admonition to a fresh bar patron, "Get out of here before I have a heart attack trying to kill you!"
A line like that can make your day.