Gus Lobel (Clint Eastwood) has been one of the best scouts in baseball for decades, but, despite his efforts to hide it, age is starting to catch up with him. Nevertheless, Gus-who can tell a pitch just by the crack of the bat-refuses to be benched for what may be the final innings of his career. He may not have a choice. The front office of the Atlanta Braves is starting to question his judgment, especially with the country's hottest batting phenom on deck for the draft. The one person who might be able to help is also the one person Gus would never ask: his daughter, Mickey (Amy Adams), an associate at a high-powered Atlanta law firm whose drive and ambition has put her on the fast track to becoming partner. Against her better judgment, and over Gus's objections, Mickey joins him on his latest scouting trip to North Carolina, jeopardizing her own career to save his.
Clint Eastwood has developed a killer changeup during his career, using his iconic status and mainstream credibility to take audiences to some thoughtfully unexpected places. (How the man behind the lyrical Letters from Iwo Jima and A Perfect World can also peel off something like the cheerfully meatheaded The Rookie is one of the most enjoyable mysteries in Hollywood.) The biggest surprise behind Trouble with the Curve, Eastwood's first time in front of the camera since Gran Torino (and his first appearance in a film he hasn't directed since 1993's In the Line of Fire), is how resolutely unsurprising it is, telling its story with an unfashionably retro simplicity. Still, even if the resolution is easily guessed, the star's trademark glower and a stellar supporting cast make it an exceedingly pleasant journey. Pulling a 180 from the methods espoused in Moneyball, Randy Brown's script follows Gus (Eastwood), a cantankerous talent scout for the Atlanta Braves whose old-school ethics are on the outs. While on what may be his last recruiting trip, Gus is reunited with his estranged daughter (Amy Adams), an upwardly mobile attorney still smarting from her father's distancing techniques. First-time director Robert Lorenz wisely places his actors front and center, with the sparkling Adams, Justin Timberlake, Matthew Lillard, and the great John Goodman all delivering terrifically tuned performances. Ultimately, though, Trouble with the Curve rises and falls with Eastwood, who keeps the material from drifting into cornball territory by sheer force of will. Squinting balefully at even the most minor annoyance, and rasping out a succession of mildly profane wisecracks, he generates more than enough star power to keep the film on track. If he hasn't earned the right to coast occasionally, then for Pete's sake, who has? --Andrew Wright