Twice this month, Clint Eastwood has led with his heart. First, there was that unscripted, unrehearsed, off-the-cuff trouble with the chair ... now, one of the most masterful actors of our time demonstrates loyalty to his longtime producing partner and first-assistant director, Robert Lorenz, by starring in his directorial debut.

Gus Lobel (Eastwood) has been one of baseball's most legendary scouts. He's more bitter and cranky than usual because he's losing his eyesight and could be benched permanently since his contract is up for renewal and the Atlanta Braves' front office is starting to question his judgment. General Manager Vince Freeman (Robert Patrick) and Phillip Snyder (Matthew Lillard), the Braves' contemptuous, computer-savvy director of scouting, are furious that one of Gus' discoveries, Billy Clark, is in a slump and that Gus has his doubts about beefy/bully Bo Gentry (Joe Massingill), the hottest young Major League prospect and a potential Braves first-round draft pick. So Gus' colleague/longtime family friend, Pete Klein (John Goodman), begs Gus' estranged daughter, Mickey (Amy Adams), a hotshot Atlanta lawyer, to join Gus for one last recruiting trip to North Carolina, where genial Johnny Flanagan (Justin Timberlake), a Boston Red Sox scout, spends time in the bleachers scoping out Mickey.

Working from a forthright, often-amusing script by Randy Brown, Robert Lorenz' direction lacks subtlety, tipping a pivotal plot twist far too early. But his casting is terrific. Amy Adams has an appealing

mixture of insight and uncertainty, while Clint Eastwood exudes earthy charm and a disconcerting sense of self-doubt. Their father/daughter dependency duet forms a delicately balanced, richly satisfying relationship.

Written 15 years ago, this sports drama -- the antithesis of "Moneyball" -- originally had Dustin Hoffman in the lead, and it's the first film Eastwood has starred in but not directed since "In the Line of Fire" (1993), coming after he stated that "Gran Torino" (2008) would be his final acting role.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Trouble With the Curve" slugs in with an engaging 8, falling short of a home run.

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