Like most great baseball movies, the sport only serves as the backdrop to a bigger story and “Trouble With The Curve” is no exception. While many of the film’s scenes take place at ballparks, Robert Lorenz’s debut as a director (and Randy Brown’s debut as a screenwriter) is more about a man struggling to come to terms with his old age and declining career and a daughter trying to connect with her father.
Clint Eastwood plays Gus Lobel, a scout for the Atlanta Braves in the twilight of his career. Gus would be a scouting legend, as the movie credits him with signing Ralph Garr, Dusty Baker, Dale Murphy, Tom Glavine and Chipper Jones. Much like his role in “Gran Torino,” Eastwood doesn’t stray far from reality for his portrayal as a crusty, old grouch.
Nearing the end of a career spanning parts of six decades in the game, Gus is developing vision problems and is too stubborn to do anything about them. One of the final members of the old guard, Gus knows that, “Scouts, good scouts, are the heart of this game.” Phillip Sanderson (Matthew Lillard), however, is a young, smug, statistically-oriented front office executive trying to convince the general manager that the game has passed Gus by. But the Braves need Gus, as the team has the second pick in the draft and one of the best players in the country is in his area. To keep Gus on the road, the team’s scouting director, Pete Klein (played by a gregarious John Goodman), convinces Gus’ daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) to spend time on the road with her father.
The request comes at an inopportune time for Mickey, as she is a lawyer trying to put the finishing touches on a big case and make partner at her firm. Mickey’s relationship with her father has long been strained after he abandoned her following the death of her mother and his wife. Even with her rough childhood, Mickey seems well-adjusted and Adams plays the cute-but-tough role with ease.
“I feel this dysfunctional sense of responsibility to make sure you’re okay,” Mickey tells her father during one of their arguments.
During her time on the road, Mickey also develops feelings for a flirty Red Sox scout, Johnny Flanagan (Justin Timberlake). Nicknamed “The Flame” in his younger days, Flanagan’s playing career has parallels to Gus’ scouting career in that Flanagan’s career came to an end after he hid an injury from his team.
Like the other main characters in the film, Timberlake’s role is right in his wheelhouse. But anyone with any notion of a scout’s job would realize that Flanagan doesn’t represent the Red Sox well. He drives a gas-guzzling muscle car, doesn’t bother to shave or wear collared shirts, shows up late to games and admits that he’s using his time as a scout for a potential stepping stone into the broadcast booth.
The movie seemingly strives for accuracy. Real scouts are seen in the background of many scenes, including Jim Bryant from the Mets, Jack Powell from the Twins and Jim Rough from the Tigers. Bud Selig announces the first pick of the draft on a mocked-up MLB Network broadcast. There is some baseball jargon, plenty of shots of radar guns, stopwatches and a big board with players’ names on magnets in the Braves’ scouting war room. Beyond that, however, there are several errors and head-scratchers as a baseball fan. Even my wife laughed when one of the scouts called Bo Gentry (Joe Massingill) a potential five-tool player. Gentry is the player Gus is focusing on during his time with Mickey and he’s a soft-bodied, righthanded high school slugger. Also, many of the secondary characters are clearly written simply to serve as cartoonish foils for the leads.
With any genre, it’s easy for hardcore fans and experts to poke holes in some of the cheesy or unrealistic scenes. Those who can look past that will be rewarded with a heartwarming story and the best mainstream baseball movie released since “The Rookie” in 2002.