For the first time in four years Clint is back in front of the camera, and it’s a performance that’s also notable because it represents the first time since 1993 that he’s acted in a film that he hasn’t directed himself. His participation in long time collaborator Robert Lorenz’s debut feature reportedly came about when his planned remake of A Star is Born stalled, leaving the prolific director with a gap in his schedule. It’s a role that seems like it must have been written specifically for him nonetheless – Gus is an ageing Major League Baseball scout who refuses to accept he’s no longer up to the task, despite his eyesight beginning to fail. There’s lots of potential for growling and grimacing, and the occasional scene that allows the 82 year-old to do some Acting with a capital A.
His first chance to do so is in a bizarre opening scene which highlights the deterioration of his character’s body by showing him struggling to urinate – cue a momentary panic as the audience questions just which curve exactly the titular trouble is with! Thankfully it’s soon clear that we’re actually dealing with the curve of a baseball, and that Gus is starting to be marginalised by his employers who are increasingly relying on a statistics based scouting model championed by the slimy Phillip (Matthew Lillard, ably continuing his big screen rehabilitation). That’s the very same recruitment system that was championed by Moneyball, but it’s very much vilified here. Thankfully for Gus, John Goodman’s Pete remains loyal to him despite learning of his eyesight problems, and aware that Gus’ next scouting trip will likely be his last he encourages Gus’ daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) to accompany him and lend a hand.
It may be Clint grabbing the headlines, but it’s Adams who steals the show. In 2012 we’ve already seen the three-time Oscar nominee (who may just be the finest actress of her generation) show remarkable range in The Muppets, On The Road and The Master, and here we see she can be just as good in relatively lightweight fare. Randy Brown’s flimsy script really doesn’t deserve the incredible acting talent it somehow attracted – Justin Timberlake is also solid as a love-interest for Adams – but they do their best to lend it some weight nevertheless. Adams’ Mickey is a lawyer who has given everything and put personal relationships aside in pursuit of her career, but somewhat out of character she drops it all to try and mend her damaged relationship with her father, just as she’s on the cusp of becoming a partner. It’s that kind of film though; characters do what the script needs them to do when the script needs them to be done. Adams and Eastwood, for example, routinely come to blows about the latter’s failure to communicate…until he suddenly decides to do just that in the final act.
In fairness, things are chugging along mediocrely enough before that final act, but then it all falls apart. There are opportunities for the script to address issues like the inherent sexism in Mickey’s workplace, or the ageism in Gus’, but instead the clichés are unleashed. If there’s a fairytale ending on offer in any thread of the plot then you can guarantee it will be grabbed with both hands to the point that things become laughable. Nice guys just don’t finish last in this warped world – so see if you can guess how things work out for the star player Gus is scouting, who just happens to also be a bit of an asshole…surely there can’t be a chink in his armour? Sadly such efforts to become a crowd-pleaser eventually just result in the film feeling a little condescending, and so lightweight that it’s barely worth picking up at all.