A surprisingly intriguing film, only made possible by the stellar acting performances that it includes. The father-son duo of Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall is what kept the film steady. Robert Downey Jr. has a fantastic performance as the brilliant yet self-centred lawyer Hank Palmer, it was such a good performance that I didn’t think that Tony Stark had shaved his beard and turned up in a suit. After Hank’s return to his home town for his mother’s funeral, he is forced to stay longer than anticipated after his father, Judge Joseph Palmer (Duvall), is accused of murder. The plot encompasses more than a courtroom flick and we witness the difficulties of Hank reconnecting with his estranged family.
Admittedly, the start of the film did feel a bit cliche with the big time city lawyer returning to his rural backgrounds. There was the same initial awkwardness and aggravation between an aggrieved son and a tyrannical father. The family was distant and it sort of lent itself to an easy ending where we expect them all to kiss and makeup, but it’s more complex than that. We recieve a curveball as Judge Palmer is put on trial for the murder of a convict from one of his old cases. Judge Palmer’s health is depreciating and it is up to Hank to defend his father, despite his stubbornness and general state of confusion. The case tests their tenuous relationship between each other as the pair must bring up and resolve their issues from the past. A pretty hefty cast with Billy Bob Thornton as the prosecuting lawyer, Vincent D’Onofrio and Jeremy Strong as Hank’s brothers and Vera Farmiga as Hank’s old high-school love interest.
It was by no means a perfect film. There could have been some potential trimming done to some of the story. I didn’t care for the cheap love flick between Downey Jr. and Farmiga’s characters, it didn’t add much to the overall story nor did it give much insight into Hank Palmer and his younger self. Perhaps a bit of filler and an excuse to have another well-known name on the cast list. There were a few nice moments of comic relief mostly featuring Downey Jr. which did add a bit of bounce to the film however, was it entirely relevant? I suppose a few small chuckles can’t go amiss and it by no means obstructed the plot. I think I’ll let it pass just because Downey Jr. can seemingly do no wrong in my eyes.
An overall steady film, not mind blowing but not wasted time either. It’s important to appreciate the family ties, the court case is simply a conduit to expose the relationships to a cinematic audience. I have such high praise for the two central performances, they made the film a more enjoyable watch.