Reel Reviews

‘Trouble with the Curve’

Audience:
A-III -- adults

 

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Eastwood baseball film caught off base

With a few exceptions, every character Clint Eastwood has portrayed during his long career has had an ornery streak, regardless of their capacity for righteous or noble acts.

In the 2008 hit “Gran Torino,” which he also directed, Eastwood starred as a curmudgeonly Detroit widower who surprises even himself by coming to the aid of his Hmong neighbors.

Appearing on the big screen for the first time since then, Eastwood limns another cantankerous senior citizen in the baseball movie “Trouble With the Curve” (Warner Bros.), directed by his frequent producing partner, Robert Lorenz. More of a pitchers’ duel than a high-scoring home run fest, this mostly winning outing is tarnished by an excess of salty language and middle innings that drag.

Eastwood is Gus Lobel, a veteran scout for the Atlanta Braves whose failing eyesight threatens to end his career. He refuses to disclose or treat his condition, and his fear and frustration manifest themselves in a noticeable spike in irritability.

Gus’ loyal boss, Pete Klein (John Goodman), defends him against team officials who think he should be put out to pasture. Gus disdains younger scouts’ reliance on computer models to assess players and has no time for a strictly quantitative approach to the game. (In this respect, the movie is the antithesis of last year’s “Moneyball.”). But if he can’t see, not even Gus’ instincts are of much use. Worried and unsure about what’s ailing his friend, Pete persuades Gus’ daughter, Mickey (Amy Adams), to accompany her dad to North Carolina to evaluate the high-school slugger considered a lock to go first in the upcoming draft. A workaholic lawyer, Mickey is very close to being offered a partnership in her Atlanta firm. She and Gus have a prickly relationship, marked by an inability to communicate about anything of substance.

Fortunately for Gus, Mickey is nearly as knowledgeable and passionate about the national pastime as he is. Battling ageism and sexism in two workplaces, father and daughter prove to be a potent battery. The experience also helps them work through their misunderstandings and lower their emotional defenses. Adding romance to the lineup is Johnny Flanagan (Justin Timberlake), a pitcher-turned-scout for the Boston Red Sox who’s sweet on Mickey.

First-time director Lorenz advances the twangy material at too leisurely a pace and his visual style is pretty monotonous. Yet the movie serves up plenty of character-derived humor and enough baseball know-how to feel authentic without seeming too insider-ish. Charismatic performances by Adams and Timberlake are a huge plus.

While it’s really Mickey who carries the story and grows the most, Gus’ bad temper, peppered with expletives, dominates the film. His vocabulary narrows the appeal of “Trouble With the Curve.” It’s too bad the filmmakers couldn’t find more imaginative ways of signaling Gus’ irascible nature.

The film contains frequent crude and crass language, much profanity, one instance of rough language, some sexual references and innuendo, and considerable alcohol consumption. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

John P. McCarthy, Catholic News Service

‘Restless Heart’

Audience:
A-II – adults and adolescents

 

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Sinner to saint story is inspiring but not for children

“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.”

This famous line from the Confessions of St. Augustine (354-430) inspires both the title and the theme of “Restless Heart” (Ignatius Press), a biographical profile of the holy bishop that manages to inspire while steering clear of sentimentality.

The movie draws on aspects of Augustine’s life from youth to old age. Though this necessitates that the leading role be shared by two actors – Alessandro Preziosi as the younger Augustine and Franco Nero as the older man – the casting is well done, so that the difference between the two is not at all jarring to the audience.

The narrative opens in the last year of the life of this great Father of the Church, as he faces the Vandals’ invasion of his diocese of Hippo Regius in Roman Africa, then goes back in time to guide the viewer through Augustine’s moving conversion story.

Born in Thagaste, North Africa, to a pagan father and a Christian mother, the young Augustine moved to the ancient metropolis of Carthage to study rhetoric. There he rose to be a well-established lawyer, but one who believed that truth was unconnected to reality and belonged instead to the winning side in any given dispute.

Around this time Augustine adopted the dualist Manichaean heresy, a development of Gnosticism that posited an ongoing cosmic battle between equally matched worlds of light and darkness. By his own later account, Augustine also gave way to debauched living.

Director Christian Duguay’s 127-minute long picture is arduous at times, though it mostly remains focused on the task at hand. As it covers Augustine’s search for meaning and truth and his eventual embrace of authentic Christianity, the picture gives plenty of breathing room to the philosophical arguments with which he wrestled. It also highlights the influence exerted on him by his holy mother St. Monica (Monica Guerritore) and by his philosophical adversary – but future friend –St. Ambrose (Andrea Giordana), the bishop of Milan.

Less satisfactory, however, is the treatment of Augustine’s career as a priest and bishop, which is touched on only at the beginning and end of the movie. This is, nonetheless, a well-produced, colorful piece of cinema that communicates uplifting messages about the power of God and the importance of truth. As such, viewers of faith will likely find it extremely nourishing.

The film contains some violence and a cohabitation theme. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America.

By Adam Shaw, Catholic News Service