When his mother dies, high powered, white collar crime defense attorney Hank Palmer (Robert Downey, Jr.) must travel back to his small, rural hometown to attend her funeral. He reunites with his estranged father The Judge (Robert Duvall) and his two semi estranged brothers. The Judge is a strict, no nonsense, dictator that is as ornery as they come. He’s well respected and has served on the bench for 45 years.
There are no surprises here. Father and son don’t get along. Father commits a crime and is suspected of murder. Son defends father. Father and son reunite. Even the performances by Downey and Duvall don’t quite pack the punch you’d expect in an adversarial relationship. We are treated once again to Downey’s verbal jousting, which is always entertaining, but not a stretch for him. We see it in his Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes films. Even though this is a drama, it is a nice departure from those roles and he displays a quiet, subtle, sorrow bubbling beneath the surface eventually rising and tugging at our heartstrings.
Directed by David Dobkin who brought us Wedding Crashers and Fred Claus, Dobkin tends to overload us on the subplots which cause the film to plod along without the usual combative legal fare as evidenced in most Grisham films that make courtroom battle so believable. The strained father-son relationship seemed exaggerated and left unexplored in order to create more tension and to show Palmer’s growth while representing his father and overcoming his personal demons.
All of the other actors seem underused with minor, unimportant plots with the expectation to propel the story forward and fill in the gaping holes. What could have been a very dramatic personal transformation just fell flat. Although the performances by Downey and Duvall are top notch, they cannot save the film and overcome the weaknesses that make this story a courtroom disaster.
There are a few redeeming aspects, but Dobkin cannot make up his mind if this is a film about the trial of a accused murderer or a trial of the father-son relationship. With underlying themes of death, disease, pride, and family, no jury can render a verdict that would even make this film a guilty pleasure.
Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Vincent D’Onofrio
Director: David Dobkin
Company: Warner Bros. Pictures
Now Showing: In Theaters
MPAA Rating: R (language)