ROBERT Downey Jr can do anything, including pair a hippie bracelet with designer, big-city attorney suits, piss over and stare down opponents, and bag both an ex-girlfriend and her daughter without explanation (our suspicion is that this particular plot device was added as just a bonus to get Downey Jr on board).
What he can’t do is inject some Robert Downeyism into this clunky film that meanders along for more than two hours without settling down once. It doesn’t help that on the other end is Robert Duvall, a formidable actor trying to make the best of a role he has done countless times before but this time in a plot that has him going around in circles rather than forward.
Dobkin, more known for films such as Wedding Crashers and Shanghai Knights, hovers between framing his film as a courtroom drama without an adequate narrative and a family tale set in a small, conservative American town with too adequate a resolution.
Downey Jr is Hank, the lawyer son out defending all the bad guys and justifying it with the Ferrari in his porch. He doesn’t hide his contempt for the town, Carlinville in Indiana, that he has left behind. Duvall is his father and the local judge for 42 years, who everyone respects and looks up to in the town. Hank is called back to Carlinville because of the death of his mother, and finds Judge Palmer as distant as ever in how he treats his two brothers and particularly him.
Meanwhile, Hank’s own relationship with his wife is breaking up though he is very loving towards his daughter, in one of those plot parallels that the film can’t resist.
In other easy hits, The Judge gives Hank a slightly challenged brother who he shows special attention towards, and an ex-girlfriend, Sam (a very cruelly treated Farmiga), who is a successful entrepreneur but apparently has been waiting around for 20 years to just jump onto his lap.
Hank can’t wait to leave but finds himself stuck in Carlinville when Judge Palmer gets accused of murder. There are some awkward scenes between the father and son, some surprisingly moving ones — including when the cancer-stricken judge soils himself in the toilet — and some plain repetitive, playing on the theme of what matters more, law or who wins.
Of The Judge’s rare noticeable lines, despite all that banter in court, there is only one worth remembering. When reminded of his avarice, Hank notes, “Everyone wants an Atticus Finch till there’s a dead prostitute in the tub.” Deep? Still trying to figure out that one.
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