Baseball is often described as "the national pasttime." People may not think about it much, but it indicates something important about baseball in comparison to other sports, which is the way Americans view it. There's certainly plenty of love for football and basketball in this country, but the thrill of those sports is more about adrenaline, the excitement, and nail-biting tension. Baseball is relaxing, comforting, rooted in tradition first and foremost. It inspires a certain type of warm, wistful feeling, usually connected to family members with which one shared their enthusiasm.
Much like baseball, Trouble With the Curve is not an innovative or exciting film, but one rooted in traditions. It'd be easy to write the film off as cliché -- and there's no denying that some of it is -- but the well-worn elements of the movie, from Clint Eastwood's performance as the grizzled old man to the distant-father story, felt familiar in a reassuring way, like the grooves in an old baseball glove, rather than annoying or tiresome. Some people don't like baseball, and many of those people may choke on Trouble With the Curve, but those who are suited to its kind of warmth will find that it goes about its business with skill and finesse.
Eastwood plays Gus, a talent scout for the Atlanta Braves. A younger, hungrier talent scout named Phillip Sanderson (Matthew Lillard) is pushing for a brash young player named Bo Gentry (Joe Massingill), but Phillip relies solely on stats and algorithms rather than good, old-fashioned instinct, and Gus isn't convinced. Unfortunately for him, just a few weeks before he's ready to go take a look at Gentry in the minors, Gus learns his vision may be going. Gus' friend and co-worker, Pete (John Goodman) expresses his concern, but Gus waves him off, so Pete enlists the help of Gus' estranged lawyer daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) to accompany him to the games to make sure nothing goes wrong. Along the way, the pair struggle to deal with their dysfunctional relationship, while Adams juggles her impending partnership at the firm, and the advances of another new talent scout, former ballplayer Tommy Flanagan (Justin Timberlake).
The wisest decision by first-time director and long-time Eastwood collaborator Lorenz is to let his extremely talented cast take the lead. With the possible exception of Timberlake, who comes off a bit overly aggressive at times, the entire ensemble gives casual, engaging performances. Gran Torino may have been a more showy final bow for Eastwood (a film he claimed would probably be his acting retirement), but his existing rapport with Lorenz works in the movie's favor, lending a clean simplicity to his acting, engendered by what is undoubtedly a working shorthand. Adams, meanwhile, is luminous and sharp, easily handling the movie's melodramatic twists and turns with a similar professionalism that nicely sands the sentimental edges off of them. The scenes in which Mickey confronts Gus about their relationship are surprisingly moving, without much effort on Lorenz's part.
As a director, Lorenz only emphasizes a few key moments, which makes the film more effective. We don't need to be reminded every five minutes that Gus' vision is going, and thus, there are only one or two POV shots of his blurry perspective. He's smart about when to play up the big baseball moments, and he allows the sport itself to do the heavy emotional lifting, rather than bathing it in tiresome golden hues or getting too wrapped up in the mood, knowing viewers will bring their own memories and fill in the blanks. If there's a real complaint to be had, the movie could probably stand to lose 10 minutes or so, perhaps cutting out one of Gus and Mickey's emotional speedbumps, but it's a minor thing. Trouble With the Curve is an assured debut that scores big by defying its own title; a comfortably familiar baseball movie that represents a sharp fastball, thrown with precision and skill.
Trouble With the Curve arrives in a standard Blu-Ray case with art that replicates one of the movie's posters (the marginally better one, of Clint by the fence, as opposed to the one of Clint and Adams walking out of the stadium with Timberlake Photoshopped in). The disc comes with a cardboard slipcover that replicates the art and identifies the disc as a DVD / Blu-Ray / UltraViolet combo pack, and the Blu-Ray and DVD sit on either side of the standard Viva Elite case, with a paper flyer containing the UltraViolet digital copy code.
The Video and Audio
This 2.40:1, 1080p AVC transfer is top-notch. Colors are lush and inviting, fine detail is excellent, and I detected no disc-based compression issues or transfer errors. Some dark scenes are a little flat, but it's an exceptionally minor complaint.
A DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is equally proficient. The crack of the bat on the ball, the satisfying thump of the ball hitting a glove, the sound of the crowds, and just the general atmosphere of the outdoors is rendered so well you can taste the roasted peanuts. Spanish and French Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks are also included, as well as English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing, and French and Spanish subtitles.
Two short featurettes are included. "Trouble With the Curve: Rising Through the Ranks" (4:37) briefly explores the professional history between Clint Eastwood and director Rob Lorenz and how that led to Eastwood appearing in Lorenz's first feature. Nobody mentions Eastwood's unofficial decision to retire from acting with Gran Torino, but it's a nice little clip. Meanwhile, "Trouble With the Curve: For the Love of the Game" (6:02) sounds like it's going to be about baseball, but it's actually about the casting and chemistry between Adams and Timberlake. Nothing special, but any reason to include more footage of Adams on the disc is fine by me.
If you've seen the trailer for Trouble With the Curve and instinctively rolled your eyes, you're probably not the audience for this simple charmer. For those who have fond memories of the bleachers, of Eastwood, or those who just enjoy simple father-daughter stories, however, this is recommended.
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