Trouble with the Curve

This film is living proof as to why Spring training baseball is still fun even if you are rooting for a losing team.

Trouble with the CurveHow ironic that Clint Eastwood’s character in Trouble with the Curve, Gus, serves as a startling reminder of why his appearance before the recent Republican National Convention in Tampa was so foolish. You can’t help but experience a sympathetic feeling that there was once a very good actor living in that old, crotchety body.

It’s not that he isn’t fun to watch as he suffers the unfairness of the aging process. In Gran Torino (2008) he played a bigoted, dying old Detroit factory worker who liked drinking in bars and telling racially twisted jokes. In Trouble with the Curve, he is an aging baseball scout gradually going blind who likes sitting in bars and yelling at whoever offends him. It makes you wish that Eastwood would have appeared on behalf of Mitt Romney with a beer in his hand.

And yet Trouble with the Curve remains an enjoyable drama for much the same reason as John Wayne’s last film, The Shootist (1976),a movie made while he was dying of cancer. Neither great actor was afraid of showing the ravages of the aging process on-screen, and the films continually hold your interest to the very end. Wayne may have died in a shootout while Eastwood is left looking for a bus, yet you can’t resist wanting to honor them as they head into the sunset.

Additionally, you are bound to like Trouble with the Curve if you are either a baseball fan or an admirer of the immensely gifted Amy Adams. Starting first with Ms. Adams, she is the emotional glue that holds this film together.

Long ago alienated from her distant father (Eastwood), she is a lawyer fighting for a partnership in an East coast law firm that largely views professional women as second-class citizens. Asked by her father’s old baseball friend, here played warmly as ever by John Goodman, to accompany her father on an important scouting trip to North Carolina due to his suspected eye problems, she is forced to re-examine her own professional life as well as the continuing distance that separates her from her father.

Ms. Adams is both appealing and winning in every scene. She knows the history of the game, and no woman has ever looked more skilled in catcher’s gear.

Yes, she does get involved with a young baseball scout played by Justin Timberlake, but they both make it work against all odds. If you are willing to excuse a regrettably happy ending that I will leave for you to judge, the two of them are the answer to the troubled problems affecting the stars in both Celeste & Jesse Forever and Sleepwalk with Me.

Finally, this film also touches a raw nerve of anyone who enjoys the game of baseball. I have always been a fan, going back to 1954, when at the age of 7 I won a national contest to take my dad (a mail carrier) to the World Series in Cleveland where the Indians played the Giants. Unfortunately, the only tragic point of that experience was becoming a Cleveland Indians fan, a curse that continues to follow me through life.

Additionally, I have a baseball at home signed by the present St. Louis Cardinals announcer, Mike Shannon. When my father took me and my two brothers to see his idol, Stan Musial, play his last game in Cincinnati before retiring in 1963, we all sat in the first row of the sun deck at Crosley Field. During batting practice, my brother Bill was leaning against the outfield fence when a rookie named Mike Shannon jumped against it with his spikes, cutting my brother’s arm. Shannon immediately threw a ball over the fence that my dad caught, and we proceeded to watch the game with Musial actually getting a hit to our delight.

After the game, my father had us stand outside the Cardinals’ locker room, hoping that Mr. Musial would walk by. He didn’t, but the young Mr. Shannon suddenly emerged walking alone. My father approached him and as he asked him to sign the baseball that I still have, said, “Mr. Shannon, you cut my boy’s arm when you jumped against the fence during batting practice. Who do I sue, you or the St. Louis ball club?”

Shannon, flipping the signed ball back at my dad, laughed and said, “Sue Cincinnati, it’s their damn fence!” My dad slapped him on the back and we all walked away laughing.

Trouble with the Curve serves to remind all baseball fans as to why television has hurt the sport while glorifying football. While baseball seems slow-moving and somewhat tedious on television, it is a work of art to watch in person. For that reason, Trouble with the Curve should have more appropriately used the title of Kevin Costner’s excellent film where he played an aging baseball star, For Love of the Game (1999).

Memorable movies have been wrapped around baseball over the years. Gary Cooper brought you to tears as the dying Lou Gehrig in Pride of the Yankees (1942). Robert DeNiro was unforgettable as a dying catcher in his first film, Bang the Drum Slowly (1973). And Kevin Costner said a memorable goodbye to the legendary Burt Lancaster in Field of Dreams (1989).

Trouble with the Curve may not be in their league, but have a beer, eat some peanuts and see it anyway.