Published On: Fri, Sep 21st, 2012

Crusty Clint Still Charms

Clint Eastwood may be America’s favorite crusty old curmudgeon.

Like John Wayne before him, Eastwood is staunchly right-wing politically. In his case liberal-leaning fans forgive him because he is such an American icon, and he does have a few progressive ideas.

Eastwood uses his icon status to good advantage in “Trouble with the Curve,” directed by his young buddy Robert Lorenz, who is making his debut as director after serving as Eastwood’s producing partner and first assistant director since 1994.

Eastwood is 82-years-old, but he is still tall, erect and very feisty. In “Trouble with the Curve” he surrounds himself with much younger players, including Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake, Matthew Lilliard and his own son, Scott Eastwood.

Amy Adams, who is 38 but looks much younger, plays Mickey, the daughter of Eastwood’s character, Gus Lobel, created by debut screenwriter Randy Brown.

Gus is a longtime baseball scout for the Atlanta Braves. He is a workaholic widower whose wife died when Mickey was only 6.

Mickey has grown up to be an over-achieving attorney who stands a good chance to become a partner in her law firm.

Gus is a very stubborn man who has been a largely absent father figure. He is fiercely independent, but lately he has been having problems with the eyesight. After a visit to the eye doctor, Gus learns he has macular degeneration and perhaps glaucoma. This is not good for a man who makes his living judging the fine points of a young player’s ability.

So, to cut to the chase, after much grumping and protesting Gus allows Mickey to be his eyes at a North Carolina high school baseball game where the star player, Bo Gentry, is a hotshot power-hitting.

Also scouting the game is Johnny Flanagan (Justin Timberlake), a once promising pitcher who never made it in the bigs but settled as scout for the Red Sox.

Gus grudgingly admires his young rival, and actually encourages him to check out his daughter.

It’s pretty easy to see where all this is going in this old-fashioned “meller drammer” with a dash of romance on the side. You have your stock villains like the cocky, racist hitter, the back-stabbing law colleague and the equally back-stabbing young director of Braves scouts (Matthew Lilliard). What makes it worth watching is the pure charm of Amy Adams and Justin Timberlake and their simmering chemistry.

As for crusty Clint, of course he is lovable in the long run, and everything is right with the world. Play ball!

Two and a half years

Richard Gere Makes

One Sleek Bad Boy

Richard Gere has been a very bad boy.

To be more concise, Richard Gere’s character in “Arbitrage” is a very badly-behaving person, and he gets worse in the progression of this white-collar thriller debut, written and directed by NYU Film School graduate Nicholas Jarecki.

Coming on the heels of “Cosmopolis,” “Arbitrage” is another timely reminder of the nasty stuff that goes on as a matter of course around Wall Street.

Gere is Robert Miller, founder and CEO of a hedge fund bearing his name. The story opens on the eve of Miller’s 60th birthday. He is at the top of his form. His brainy, loyal daughter Brooke (Brit Marling) is poised to take over after he retires. His adoring wife Ellen (Susan Sarandon) is the cream of philanthropic society.

Arbitrage means taking advantages of price differences between markets. In theory one can make a risk-free profit at zero cost.

However, there is a human equation involved. Hedge fund managers are supposed to adhere to the highest moral and ethical standards. Major institutions stake their resources and reputations on them. As the Bernard Madoff scandal proved, hedge funds can be a very risky business indeed and downright criminal if the guy at the top is a liar and thief.

Robert Miller is not a thief, but he is skating on the thin ice of moral and financial crisis. A bad call has put half of his hedge fund in jeopardy, and he has been robbing Peter to pay Paul to cover up for his bad judgment.

With typical arrogance of a tycoon, Miller feels he is above conventional morality. He has been having an affair with a pretty young art dealer (Laetitia Casta) and promoting her career. One reckless decision by Miller will result in tragedy for one human life and the ruination of Miller’s career and company.

As the web of deception tightens on Miller, he reaches out to an unlikely young ally named Jimmy Grant (Nate Parker, perfectly cast), and in turn Jimmy will be put in jeopardy.

Breathing down Miller’s trail is brazen, wily police detective Michael Bryer (Tim Roth), who is not averse to pulling off a few tricks of his own to snare the perpetrator.

Early in his career Richard Gere played a lot of idealized young romantic heroes. Now that he has silvery hair and a creased face he has more resonance and depth as an actor. This is one of his best performances ever.

The always-entertaining Tim Roth affects a skeptical combative stance and a tough New York accent for his bullying detective.

Susan Sarandon saves her best for the last as Miller’s forgiving, loyal, but quietly raging wife Ellen- finally at the end of her patience.

There is nothing novel or groundbreaking about “Arbitrage,” but it does generate a fair amount of suspense and impassioned performances all around. Sadly, the end has the ironic ring of truth. Good guys don’t always win and bad guys don’t always lose.

Nicolas Jarecki is a bright young talent to watch.

Three stars

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