Gus (Clint Eastwood) is an aging baseball scout with failing eyesight who goes out on the road with his estranged daughter, Mickey (Amy Adams), to find one last top prospect. Forced to spend time together for the first time in years, Gus and his daughter bond again. Mickey falls for Johnny, a young scout and faux-rival (Justin Timberlake).
A veteran scout for the Atlanta Braves, Gus Lobel (Clint Eastwood) is searching for new talent, a week out from the Major League Drafts. But his eyesight is failing, and though he tersely rejects any offer of help, a friendly colleague (John Goodman) prevails upon his long-estranged daughter, attorney Mickey (Amy Adams) to drop everything—including, bizarrely, the partnership she’s dreamed of for the past seven years, the matter of which is to be decided within days—and join him in North Carolina, where a high school hitter may or may not be the Next Big Thing.
Eastwood’s last public performance—haranguing an empty chair, intended to represent Barack Obama, at the Republican National Convention—was considered by many an embarrassing gaffe, a bizarre and unfortunate coda to a remarkable career. Which seemed, to me at least, a somewhat puzzling response: had these people not seen his last four or five roles? As the actor has moved into what might politely be termed his Jurassic Period, he’s shuffled through morality dramas like Gran Torino and Million Dollar Baby, films even creakier than his own joints, delivering the same one-note performance he offered onstage in Tampa that night, and reprises here: a lonely, embittered crank, all narrowed eyes and parched rasp, out of touch with the modern world, and curtly dismissive to everyone with range, yet demanding (with a level of passive-aggression that would put a Jewish mother to shame) that you love him, nonetheless.
Watching this film (agonisingly protracted at almost two hours) is a little like spending time with an curmudgeonly uncle you hate visiting. There is a disdainful reference to Feng shui; the phrase 'interwebs’ (sigh) is used . . . We get it, granddad—you want us off your lawn. It’s the kind of movie where you know the bad guy’s a douche because he drinks a Martini in a cocktail bar, instead of draft beer in some 'honest’ backroads dive—just as you’re assured that Amy Adams’ character is well on the road to redemption when she swaps her power suit for a flannelette shirt and blue jeans. By the end, she’s thrown away her BlackBerry! Clearly, her soul is safe. But what of America’s . . . ?
One could of course harken back to the aforementioned RNC debacle, and draw some hypothesis about the 'Real America’ Eastwood depicts—and at which he clearly aims these pictures. (For those outside the United States, and unconvinced as to the holy mysteries of baseball, this is tedious, badly sentimental stuff.) But that would be according this more serious contemplation than it deserves. There’s a basic laziness in execution as well as conception here, with continuity errors between shots, and misjudged music cues. Mostly, though, it feels as anonymous as any telemovie.
Much has been made of the fact that this is first film Eastwood has acted in—but did not direct—since Wolfgang Petersen’s In the Line of Fire, way back in 1993. But the film is made by the actor’s own production company, Malpaso Productions, and its director, Robert Lorenz, has served as a producer on 12 of his films, starting with 2002’s Blood Work, and as assistant director on eight. Unsurprisingly, for his first time in the big chair, he’s chosen to surround himself, not only with the closest available leading man, but with Eastwood’s usual crew: cinematographer Tom Stern, production designer James Murakami, editors Gary Roach and Joel Cox.
Little wonder, then, that the film should feel like one of the boss’s own—right down to its efficient, some-might-say-classical (I prefer perfunctory) mise-en-scene, a 'style-less’ style every bit as aesthetically conservative as the message it’s putting across: that figures aren’t as important as feelings—a close cousin to fellow Republican Karl Rove’s stated disdain for what he termed the 'reality-based community’. Indeed, with its emphasis on instinct and lived experience, its dewy-eyed reverence for the sport it depicts, and its sneering contempt for statistical analysis in general and computer technology in particular, it’s tempting to see this as the analogue riposte to Moneyball.
As Mickey, Adams does as much as she can with a role so programmatic, it might as well have been printed out on a punchcard. She’s at least consistently watchable, her innate charisma (and low, thrilling voice) lending a charge to even the most predictable lines; whenever she’s on the screen, she holds it. As opposed to Justin Timberlake, here playing her love interest, who not only has no character to speak of, no apparent wants or desires outside of her, but also exhibits, as an actor, some of the bland, doughy passivity of a Jeremy Renner. John Goodman, meanwhile, does just enough to collect a paycheque, and not a fraction more.
As one of our last living legends, though, Eastwood presents a more difficult proposition. Watching him, I found myself recalling with some admiration those screen greats who decided to retire early: Cary Grant, Walter Pidgeon, James Cagney—more recently, Gene Hackman. There’s little edifying in the spectacle of watching Eastwood having difficulty pissing in the morning (practically the first shot here), or complaining about rappers—and not much that’s instructive, either. If his relentless desire to depict the indignities of aging had a little more insight to it, or simple guts—more of, say, what Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva bought to Michael Haneke’s recent Amour—then it might be more worthy of scrutiny. Who knows? Even those pesky kids might put down their Playstations and listen. As it is, it feels like the interminable complaints of a crankily self-righteous old man. It’s time to leave the stage.
It’s tempting to see this as the analogue riposte to Moneyball.