Any serious baseball fan knows the names Ferguson Jenkins and Mike Schmidt, both members of the Hall of Fame. Few if any know the name of Tony Lucadello, but without him, they’d have never heard of Jenkins or Schmidt. He was the baseball scout who signed both players to their first contract.
The baseball scout is the unsung hero of baseball. When he gets it right, the team wins and no one notices. When he gets it wrong, the team loses and he’s on the chopping block. In Trouble With the Curve from director Robert Lorenz and writer Randy Brown, “Gus Lobel” (Eastwood) is one of the best scouts ever to work in the Atlanta Braves organization. He found and signed a bunch of superstars in the past, but now he’s old and struggling. The club’s director of scouting, “Pete Klein” (Goodman), still has faith in him and will protect him, but “Phillip Sanderson” (Lillard) wants Klein’s job and will throw Gus under the bus to get it. The club has the number two pick in the upcoming draft and Gus is sent to evaluate “Bo Gentry” (Massingill) to see if he is the potential superstar that computers tell them he will be.
But Pete knows that Gus is struggling and he asks Gus’ daughter “Mickey” (Adams) to go with him. She is bucking for partnership at an Atlanta firm and has a big case that will make or break her bid for partnership. She also has a romantic relationship that’s reaching a critical point. However, when she learns that her father’s eyesight is failing, she puts everything on hold to go to North Carolina to help him scout this prospect.
Mickey spent years on the road with her dad as a child, after the death of her mother. That ended when she turned 13 and Gus packed her off to boarding school. She knows baseball better than most and can be of great help to her father in finding out if Gentry really does have what it takes to succeed on the major league level. But their unresolved issues loom very large.
If that wasn’t enough, at the first game where Mickey joins Gus, “Johnny ‘The Flame’ Flanagan” (Timberlake) is there. He’s a player that Gus signed who blew out his arm and now he’s a scout for the Boston Red Sox, where he hopes to land a job in the broadcasting booth. He’s also there to scout Gentry.
With all of that, this isn’t really a movie about baseball, scouts, or the critical role they play in whether teams succeed or fail. This is all about relationships and aging. Gus’ relationship with Mickey and what happened to it after her mother died. Mickey’s inability to sustain any relationship with anyone else because of that problematic relationship with her father. Pete’s relationship with his very close friend, who he wants to protect and may be unable to. Johnny’s relationship with baseball, the game he loves and his regrets over how his career ended.
Adams is superb as the daughter who has been driven to succeed in her career in order to gain her father’s approval, and whose life suffers in every other aspect. Eastwood only improves in the role of crotchety, angry old man that we thought we’d seen the last of in Gran Torino. Timberlake was surprisingly good as Johnny, especially in the third act.
It’s easy to see that Lorenz spent years working as Eastwood’s assistant director, as there is a very real Eastwood ‘feel’ to the film’s imagery and direction. The story is well thought-out and holds the viewer’s attention throughout. Baseball fans will be particularly enthralled, but you don’t have to love baseball to enjoy Trouble With the Curve.