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‘Trouble With the Curve’ / ‘Dream House’

Clint Eastwood, Daniel Craig flex their Dad muscles

by Kaori Shoji

The season of family gatherings is upon us, and here are two movies featuring The Dad in a big way. Though not as familiar as The Mom, The Dad is a cozy Hollywood institution, often deployed to prod at adult male shortcomings — from cold, distant workaholic to warm-hearted slob around the house. There’s also the Super-Dad who’s a sexual powerhouse around Mom and an action hero to his kids. In any case, Dad stories are rarely genuine duds. For women over 39, the real chick flick is the Dad flick.

“Trouble With the Curve” showcases Clint Eastwood in some unforgettable Dad moments. At 82, these days he’s more behind the camera than in front of it, but this time he relinquishes the lens to his trusted protege and longtime assistant director, Robert Lorenz, to play a tough, craggy baseball scout named Gus.

Gus is a legendary figure at the Atlanta Braves’ headquarters, but even after 40 years of experience and hard-core devotion to the game he still can’t keep imminent retirement at bay. On top of that, Gus’ eyes are failing and he bumps into furniture a lot. On the advice of his friend Pete (John Goodman), he very reluctantly enlists the aid of estranged daughter Mickey (Amy Adams), a lawyer, to come on the road with him, make the round of ball parks up and down Atlanta and scout out new talent. Mickey agrees, but only because she remembers how much she enjoyed doing that as a child, before her mother’s death and Gus sending her away to boarding school.

Trouble is, there are practically no curves whatever in the plot, which pretty much runs the straight and narrow. But that’s not a crime. When he’s not holding conversations with furniture, Eastwood’s professionalism and deep respect for cinema come to the fore: This is a polite, well-crafted film with no throwaway scenes, cheap tricks or degrading moments.

It’s sweetly inspiring to see a father and daughter bond after such a long time apart, and to see how each in their separate ways reconnects with the inner man/child they’ve left behind. Adams does a nice balancing act of swinging between tomboy toughness and city-girl vulnerability, but Eastwood (whose overall texture recalls certain parts of the Grand Canyon) is majestic.

Daniel Craig’s movie of the year is the soon-to-be-released “Skyfall,” but this is an interesting little detour he took last year, quickly and undeservingly shot down by a disastrous, give-away trailer. Directed by Jim Sheridan (“In the Name of the Father,” “In America”), this shows Craig in a rare The Dad mode, where he gives all to his family but ultimately fails to protect them. But oh, how he tries.

Genre-wise, “Dream House” is a psycho-horror, but true to Sheridan’s style, character development takes priority over the scare factor (which is pretty standard).

Craig plays Will Atenton, a former publishing exec who quit his job to be with his family and write a novel. To this end, Will buys a house in a leafy New England suburb, but as soon as they move in, his wife, Libby (Rachel Weisz), and kids (Taylor and Claire Geare) learn that their dream house was the site of a brutal murder that left a young mother and two children dead.

Will is concerned, but the neighbors and local police are strangely quiet about it. And then Will learns that the whole town believes that the father of the family was the culprit, and that he’s back. Only one person is convinced of his innocence, and this is Ann Patterson (Naomi Watts), who lives next door and was apparently close to the victims.

The film’s two-minute trailer not only gave the whole show away, it ticked off Sheridan so much he refused to promote the movie, and both Craig and Weisz took the same route. The good news was that after this, Craig hooked up with Weisz in real life, and you can see the chemistry they had going in the movie, which charges an otherwise sad, violent story with a lot of warmth.

So Weisz gets a lot of TLC, but Watts, on the other hand, seems underused and even a little bored. It’s interesting to see the contrast in attitude on the part of Will — when he’s around Ann trying to extract information about the murders, he’s about as charming as J. Edgar Hoover. But as soon as he goes next door and into the arms of Libby — wham! — he turns into James Bond offering to pour the wine. That’s not fair treatment of a gorgeous blonde like Ann; after the all-out spoiler trailer, this turns out to be the movie’s biggest mystery.