Un­trou­bled by tra­di­tion

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film - David Stratton

Na­tional re­lease

(PG) ★★★ Lim­ited re­lease

(M) ★ Na­tional re­lease

C(M) ★★★


✩ LINT East­wood’s em­bar­rass­ing lec­ture to an ab­sent Barack Obama at the Repub­li­can na­tional con­ven­tion ear­lier this year was, I sup­pose, a re­minder that this leg­endary Hol­ly­wood fig­ure has al­ways been a Repub­li­can even if he has di­rected films, such as Mil­lion Dol­lar Baby, that have been at odds with so­cial con­ser­vatism.

Now aged 82, East­wood pre­vi­ously fore­shad­owed that his role in the mov­ing Gran Torino (2008) would be his last in front of the cam­era, and maybe he should have stuck to that be­cause Gus Lo­bel, in Trou­ble with the Curve, is one of the least in­ter­est­ing characters he has por­trayed in a while. Spec­u­la­tion is that he agreed to make the film, which was pro­duced by his com­pany, Mal­paso, as a favour to his long-time as­sis­tant, Robert Lorenz, who wanted to try his hand at di­rec­tion. Fair enough, but they’d have done bet­ter to find a more orig­i­nal screen­play than the one writ­ten by Randy Brown.

I re­alise this is start­ing to sound like a ma­jor pan, but in fact I en­joyed Trou­ble with the Curve, de­spite its many flaws. As a died-in-the­wool East­wood ad­mirer — most of the time — I ap­pre­ci­ated the re­laxed charm with which he plays his scenes op­po­site Amy Adams, one of Hol­ly­wood’s best young ac­tresses. Adams plays Mickey, Gus’s lawyer daugh­ter, a self­con­fi­dent pro­fes­sional who has a bit­ter his­tory with her fa­ther based on a se­ries of mis­un­der­stand­ings and mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

This has been rightly com­pared to Money­ball, the film that last year put the case for the mod­erni­sa­tion of the base­ball game in which the mea­sure of fu­ture per­for­mance is cal­cu­lated by com­puter. Brown’s screen­play res­o­lutely turns its back on that sort of thing; Gus spots tal­ent thanks to a life­time’s ex­pe­ri­ence and to a keen eye, though his eye­sight is fail­ing. He clings to the tech­nol­ogy of the past cen­tury. A wid­ower, he even vis­its his wife’s grave and talks to her.

Gus seems to be say­ing he has reached an age where he’s com­fort­able with tra­di­tion. His em­ploy­ers at At­lanta Braves aren’t so sure; they want Gus to re­tire so that he can be re­placed by some­one with up-to-date ideas, but there are no prizes for guess­ing that the film stands squarely with Gus who, even though he makes the odd mis­take, and even though his re­la­tion­ship with Mickey is trou­bled, is bound to come up trumps.

In other words, the qual­i­ties of this film are tra­di­tional ones, from the clas­si­cal pho­to­graphic style of Tom Stern to the cast­ing of the small­est roles. Scenes in which fa­ther and daugh­ter quar­rel and make up af­ter a life­time of con­flict and sep­a­ra­tion are beau­ti­fully han­dled, even though you can un­der­stand Mickey’s frus­tra­tion at her dad’s cussed­ness.

Trou­ble with the Curve is cer­tainly not go­ing to be re­mem­bered as a ma­jor East­wood film, but there’s some­thing com­fort­ing in see­ing the old boy is still go­ing strong. His voice is raspier than ever, his face more lined and weath­ered, but this leg­endary ac­tor may still have some sur­prises in store for his fans. AGE is also an is­sue in Lib­eral Arts, a smart rom-com writ­ten and di­rected by Josh Rad­nor, who also plays the lead­ing role. He is Jesse, a 35-year-old who isn’t thrilled with his job — ad­mis­sions man­ager at a New York school — and who is nos­tal­gic for his youth­ful days at a col­lege in Ohio where he stud­ied lib­eral arts. A chance to re­turn there ma­te­ri­alises when his old English lit teacher, Peter (Richard Jenk­ins), in­vites him back to at­tend his re­tire­ment din­ner. While ex­pe­ri­enc­ing, tem­po­rar­ily, life back on cam­pus, Jesse en­coun­ters Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen), a vir­ginal 19-year-old who is very smart and very flir­ta­tious.

That’s the premise for an of­ten de­light­ful film that’s un­for­tu­nately bur­dened by ex­cess characters — Zac Efron’s zany Nat could have wound up on the cut­ting-room floor — and some too lit­eral ideas, such as the hand­writ­ten let­ters that Zibby and Jesse ex­change once he re­turns to New York. And surely Jesse would have en­coun­tered clas­si­cal mu­sic be­fore Zibby ap­par­ently in­tro­duces it to him?

Th­ese el­e­ments jar a bit, but over­all the film has charm to spare, and it’s also pretty good with some of life’s more painful de­ci­sions. Peter, hav­ing an­nounced his re­tire­ment, has sec­ond thoughts, and one of the film’s best, though most painful, scenes in­volves his at­tempts to per­suade his boss that he’d like to stay on af­ter all. Th­ese shafts of wis­dom el­e­vate the movie and pretty much make up for its li­a­bil­i­ties. Per­for­mances are con­sis­tently fine. Even when Rad­nor’s screen­play fal­ters Rad­nor him­self brings depth to the char­ac­ter of the im­ma­ture Jesse who, though he’s 16 years older than Zibby, can’t match her in wis­dom; and Elizabeth Olsen is prov­ing to be a ver­sa­tile and tal­ented young ac­tor.

Also wor­thy of note in the act­ing stakes are Jenk­ins and Al­li­son Jan­ney, who plays Jesse’s favourite teacher from his col­lege days and who is still teach­ing in the same col­lege and ob­vi­ously get­ting to be bit­ter and frus­trated about the lim­i­ta­tions of her life. THE story be­hind the re­mak­ing of the 1984 Red Dawn is much more in­ter­est­ing than the film. The orig­i­nal, a Rea­gan-era cult movie about a Rus­sian in­va­sion of the US and a bunch of young peo­ple who form a re­sis­tance group to fight the ag­gres­sors, was spirit­edly di­rected by John Mil­ius and is still vaguely watch­able.

The re­make was shot in 2009 as an MGM pro­duc­tion with the Chi­nese, in­stead of the Sovi­ets, fea­tured as the evil in­vaders. Af­ter MGM filed for bank­ruptcy, the film was sold to an­other dis­trib­u­tor who, aware that China is a tempt­ing mar­ket for ac­tion movies, de­cided to dig­i­tally change the vil­lains into North Kore­ans, though there seem to be Rus­sian ad­vis­ers in­volved as well. Its Aus­tralian dis­trib­u­tor sneaked it into cinemas last week with­out any press previews.

Stunt co-or­di­na­tor Dan Bradley di­rected and two Aus­tralian ac­tors were cast: Chris Hemsworth, as the veteran of Iraq who leads the re­sis­tance against the in­vaders, and Is­abel Lu­cas, as the girl­friend of the hero’s younger brother. It’s safe to say that nei­ther ac­tor will boast about the film on their re­sume.

The prob­lem is, af­ter a pretty good first reel — in which the brothers awake one morn­ing to the sounds of ex­plo­sions and low-fly­ing air­craft and dis­cover the in­va­sion has be­gun — the drama de­scends into cliche and the bat­tle scenes are shot and edited in such a way that it’s dif­fi­cult to tell who’s fight­ing whom. The orig­i­nal, as is of­ten the case, was su­pe­rior, as is the sim­i­lar 2010 Aus­tralian film, To­mor­row When the War Be­gan.

Trou­ble with the Curve

Clint East­wood as wid­ower Gus in

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