Rating:Gaunt and hollowed-out, a constant reminder of mortality, the Clint Eastwood of today is nevertheless strong enough to carry a film. He isn’t just the most magnetic personality in Trouble with the Curve, he’s also the one whose integrity lends this project with an inner core of authority. On Curve’s soundtrack, we hear country, twangy rock and even blues, all of which purport to establish the film with the authentic credentials of a for-the-people tale, but it’s only Eastwood who makes this claim something less than preposterous. It’s not just that we persist in believing the myth of Eastwood, a myth that strangely encompasses the frailty of Curve, but instead, it’s Eastwood’s refreshing lack of ego and commitment to honest work, rather than the lure of a paycheck, so out of step with our times, that makes us feel, somehow, like we can trust him here. And Curve is very much a project with Eastwood’s seal of approval: it was produced by Eastwood’s own Malpaso Productions and directed by Robert Lorenz, who’s been producing Eastwood’s directorial work all the way back to 2002’s Blood Work and serving as an assistant director of Eastwood’s since back in the 1990s. Curve, then, is in some sense an “Eastwood film” despite his absence from the director’s chair.
Nonetheless, the aspect of Curve that most confirms Eastwood’s “auteur” status is precisely that he didn’t direct it. Each and every film that Eastwood has directed in the last decade is significantly better than Curve, Lorenz’s debut directorial work. Though Eastwood lacks even a single writing credit on any of his films, he quite clearly puts his stamp on that work in a way that is missing here, all but proving Eastwood’s excellence and importance as a filmmaker. But what Curve offers, instead, is a likable film that allows Eastwood to explore his screen persona in an environment without the gravitas of his recent directorial work, which has dwelled on heavy themes like war, apartheid and mortality. Increasingly, Eastwood the actor is absent in his directorial work, suggesting that his physical body might be out of step with his artistic inclinations.
That being said, Eastwood’s character here, baseball scout Gus Lobel, more than slightly resembles his character from Gran Torino. It’s that curmudgeon role that Eastwood has aged into, allowing him to retain his once-steely edge, but Curve tempers this with light comedy: asked by friend and co-worker Pete (John Goodman) why his coffee table has been placed on top of his couch after his failing eyesight caused him to trip over it, Gus replies with false confidence that it’s “feng shmei,” an endearing attempt to conceal the toll of aging with in-the-know hipness. It’s obvious what drew Eastwood to such a role, as the time for playing heroes and anti-heroes has largely passed. In many previous roles, Eastwood’s loner status was expressed through his distance from a lover, potential or actual. The Eastwood persona’s incapacity to connect satisfactorily with women is here transferred to a relationship with his character’s daughter Mickey (Amy Adams), a lawyer who risks an important case to accompany her father on an important scouting job. Gus’ reconciliation with his daughter gives Eastwood an opportunity to seek forgiveness for his characters’ numerous misdeeds against women.
Rounding out the cast is Justin Timberlake, who plays pitcher-turned-scout Johnny Flanagan. Eastwood’s persona is very much a product of its time, and Timberlake clearly represents a male archetype of a vastly different generation. The laconic, reserved Eastwood is the perfect contrast to the Timberlake’s easygoing goof. The same contrast could be seen between “Mad Men’s” Don Draper, an emotionally wounded Eastwood-like loner, and the actor who plays him, Jon Hamm, whose aptitude for self-mocking comedy when he is not playing Draper suggests a noteworthy lack of neurotic vanity, rather like the Timberlake of “Dick in a Box” fame. On the other hand, Matthew Lillard’s petulant Tom, a member of Gus’ scouting team who favors newfangled technology to direct experience, represents the worst of his generation’s narcissistic male arrogance. Tellingly, Eastwood transfers the mantle of neuroses to his female co-star’s Mickey, who lives out the damage inflicted by the Eastwood loner archetype, a living, intergenerational embodiment of the consequences of male behavior from Eastwood’s generation.
Curve’s best scenes revolve around this triangle of Eastwood, Adams and Timberlake. When Johnny attempts to get Mickey to lighten up—her closed-off, emotional unavailability to men functions as a contemporaneous mirror to the Eastwood archetype, albeit in a significantly more commonplace setting—Johnny keeps a respectful, chivalric distance, playing up the nice boy image endowed to him by his Southern upbringing, and he is attentive in a way that Eastwood’s characters never were, suggesting the possibility that Timberlake’s generation of men may succeed in not repeating the mistakes of Eastwood’s generation. In all, Curve’s light-hearted anti-gravitas cleanly suggests that the men and women of Timberlake’s and Adams’ generation lack the internal torment that fueled much of the drama of the Eastwood persona.
All of Curve’s plots resolves themselves with pleasing efficiency, but this only highlights the many ways in which this is understandably inferior to Eastwood’s work as a director, though enjoyable in its own right. This begs the question: does the younger generation have fewer hang-ups, or are they just less aware of their own failings? The tortured masculinity of Eastwood’s core body of work is wholly out of place in Curve, but this doesn’t mean we don’t have reasons to miss it. And it’s still this tortured core, or what’s left of it, that gives Curve whatever integrity it has. There is something to be said for Eastwood’s internal torment in an era where many of your problems seem to go away if, like Mickey, you throw out the smartphone distracting you from living your life.