But they do love each other. When Gus' best friend and boss in the Atlanta Braves front office (John Goodman, lovably bearish as ever) sees his old pal struggling, he enlists Mickey to accompany Gus on a scouting trip to North Carolina. It is, naturally, just what dad and daughter need. In the course of a few days, Gus proves that his acumen extends beyond his eyesight, and Mickey discovers that maybe she can trust a man after all — especially if the man is twinkly-eyed Justin Timberlake, who pops up as a rival scout with good reasons to be fond of both Gus and Mickey. Most important, father and daughter discover the qualities each thought the other lacked, and at the fade-out we know everybody is going to live happily ever after, no matter how many innings they go.
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Except, of course, for those humiliated young turks, who once again have learned a thing or two from an old master.
Along the way, the hill country of North Georgia subs scenically for North Carolina, and first-time director Robert Lorenz does a nice job of evoking small-town America without condescension. (I especially liked the tattered sign outside Gus' motel, which reads: "Lowest rats in town.")
Occasionally, we wish it were Clint behind the camera — a climactic scene in which Gus finally explains to Mickey why he felt he was an unfit father is bungled; what should have been a pivotal moment becomes an afterthought — but at other times it seems as if the veteran star, relieved of directorial duties, is truly immersed in his character. Crouched at the grave of his wife, Gus whispers the words of their favorite song, "You Are My Sunshine." With each line, his profound sadness and regret push a bit closer to the surface, until at the end he can barely finish, and we can hardly stand it. It's not our place to know where Clint went inside himself to draw out that moment, but it stands as a reminder that Eastwood, for all his career iconography, remains a consummate screen actor.