Sunday, September 23, 2012

Play Ball!

In baseball, the relationship and trust between a catcher and a pitcher is not to be underestimated.*  Sure, the pitcher gets most of the glory, but without a good catcher crouched at the plate calling the pitches, you got nothing.  Trouble with the Curve doesn't concern itself with that, but that's about the only relationship that isn't given quality screen time in this movie.  At its heart, Curve is about change and resistance.  Do we take a chance and trust our guts and and hearts, or do we cover ourselves up with gruffness and BlackBerry messages and hope to God that we never have to be honest about anything that really matters?  One's easy and the other's worthwhile.  But the choice isn't easy.

The film features four strong characters - Gus (Clint Eastwood), an aging baseball scout with failing eyesight; Mickey (Amy Adams), his nearly estranged daughter who's on the fast track to become partner at a high-powered law firm; Johnny (Justin Timberlake), a pitcher Gus signed to the big leagues but who blew out his arm and is trying to figure out his next move; and Pete (John Goodman), who's head of scouting for the Atlanta Braves and therefore, Gus' boss.  Seeing these four onscreen is a pure delight.

It's good that these characters are drawn with such detail and nuance, because the rest of the Curve is populated with characters taken straight from the Stock Character Warehouse, which is my major complaint.  Curve is a fairy-tale baseball movie in which the good are rewarded and the jerks get their well-deserved comeuppance and I'll admit I took great satisfaction is seeing the worthy elevated and the windbags deflated.  Yeah, yeah - we both know life doesn't really work that way (not often, at any rate), but it's still great fun to see.  And watching Justin Timberlake clog in some dive of a bar was nearly worth the price of admission.  And it seems to be true that Clint Eastwood pictures need to feature either a gun, a horse, or both.  (Note: this one has no guns.)

Clint Eastwood has had a career that makes strong men faint.  He's lasted longer in a business that is constantly scanning the horizon for the next big thing than just about anyone and he's done it with grace and style.  Look - Clint's career predates my entire life by more than a decade - his first credited appearance was as "Jonesey" in Francis in the Navy in the mid 1950s.  (That same year, he was "Jennings" in something called Revenge of the Creature proving that we all gotta start somewhere, I suppose.) He's given us the Man with No Name, he's been Dirty Harry, and ohmyheaven, he reclaimed the Western in 1992 with Unforgiven.  He knows jazz and gave us the wonderful Charlie Parker biopic Bird.  He's a talent to be reckoned with.  In Curve, he seems to be enjoying his status of Elder Curmudgeon of Hollywood and this is a worthy movie.  As Johnny reminds us, to get to that magic .300 batting average which denotes Big League talent, you have to be willing to strike out 7 out of 10 times.  Johnny's talking about far more than baseball and that's a lesson that Gus hasn't learned and therefore was one he couldn't pass on to his daughter.

Trouble with the Curve isn't as funny as Bull Durham or as touching as Field of Dreams, but it's a nice addition to the collection of baseball movies that remind viewers of just why America chose the devilishly-hard task of hitting a round ball with a round bat as our national game. 

*One of the best songs ever about this is Eddie From Ohio's "Catchers Drummers Anchormen" - check out the lyrics by clicking on the title.  And if you don't catch the song's reference to "with a wave of his arms/He kept it fair," check out this link.  Ah, baseball - you break my heart and make it soar at the same time.

No comments: