Clint Eastwood, After the Chair
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This story was originally published at Salon.
Sure, I wish Clint Eastwood had not recently revealed himself to be a grumpy old guy who talks to furniture, on behalf of not just a doomed presidential candidate or a right-wing presidential candidate – because neither of those things is a huge surprise — but a third-rate doomed right-wing presidential candidate. But I wish lots of other things too. I wish that baseball, the so-called national pastime and the subject of Eastwood’s awful but fascinating new movie “Trouble With the Curve,” hadn’t become a niche entertainment for suburban white people with bad clothes and worse politics. I wish that the guy most of us Eastwood-mockers are likely to vote for would stop randomly nuking civilians in the Third World, and that American politicians could ever, even once, have an honest public conversation about our screwed-up relationship with Israel. I wish that American liberals had better sense than to be smitten with Bill Clinton all over again, like the girl with the black eye who feels sure that her boozy, good-looking boyfriend has turned over a new leaf this time.
Here’s what I don’t wish: I don’t wish that Clint Eastwood had an entirely different, less erratic movie career than the one he’s actually got. It’s even more difficult to imagine that than to imagine those other things. Whatever you think of his life choices or his politics or his films – and I’m not going to defend “The Bridges of Madison County” or “Space Cowboys” or, Jesus H. Christ, the execrable “J. Edgar” on any level whatever – Eastwood is an American monument on the scale of Elvis and Sinatra. He’s The Man With No Name, Dirty Harry Callahan, the outlaw Josey Wales. He’s Clint freakin’ Eastwood, iconic male badass of all time, and you and I do not get to make the rules for him, no matter how ridiculous he gets.
One could certainly argue that he should have retired from acting, and maybe directing too, after “Gran Torino” in 2008, which had that valedictory, elegiac feeling of summing up and signing off, was cleanly constructed in the classic Eastwood style, featured a Detroit muscle car and perhaps the best performance of his late career, and made a bunch of money besides. But he didn’t. Eastwood has directed several expensive bombs since then, each one worse than the one before, and now he’s back in an acting role at age 82, playing a guy so old and decrepit he makes Walt Kowalski from “Gran Torino” look like the smooth-talking, sharp-dressed sex-god jazz DJ in “Play Misty for Me.”
But here’s the thing: “Trouble With the Curve” (directed by Robert Lorenz, an assistant director on previous Eastwood films) is an inept and preposterous picture on various levels, generously infused with the nostalgic sentimentality that makes baseball fans of a certain vintage so intolerable. But Clint Eastwood, ladies and gentlemen, absolutely brings it as a “broken-down old man” with macular degeneration who’s at the tail end of his career as an Atlanta Braves scout. He’s done versions of this role before, several times: The crusty widower and failed dad who may still have some valid wisdom to impart, but has been entirely left behind by technology, by feminism and by the perverse idea that men can or should ever discuss their goddamn feelings.
As soon as I tell you that Eastwood’s character, Gus, has one last big scouting mission for the Braves, and that he begrudgingly accepts the aid of his estranged daughter, a high-powered attorney named Mickey (played by Amy Adams, Ms. I’m-in-Everything of 2012), you know everything essential about where this is going. When I add that Mickey (named for Mickey Mantle, naturally) is still single because brown-nosey, law-firm guys gross her out, and that one of the other scouts on the trip is a former ballplayer and one-time protégé of Gus’, and more to the point is played by Justin Timberlake – well, now you have the whole deal.