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SYNOPSIS: Big city lawyer Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr) returns to his childhood home where his father, Joseph (Robert Duvall) the town's judge, is suspected of murder. Hank sets out to discover the truth and, along the way, reconnects with his estranged family.

Review by Louise Keller:
The law may be black and white but there is nothing black and white about the father son relationship in this potent drama that comes to a blistering head during a murder trial. Relying on the talents of Robert Downey Jnr and Robert Duval as the son who defends the rich and guilty and the father whose believes in the truth, appropriately enough, it is in the middle of a cyclone that the fury is finally unleashed between the two. That's when all the demons of the past start to spit their venom and what has long remained unsaid is expressed. After a string of comedies including Wedding Crashers and Shanghai Knights, director David Dobkin is fastidious in his handling of the material, although the film drags at 141 minutes and would sit more comfortably if it had been firmly snipped in the editing room. But there is much to enjoy with its dysfunctional 'Picasso painting family' and great performances from Downey Jnr and Duval.

In the first couple of scenes we get a glimpse of the slick, harsh superficial life of Hank Palmer (Downey Jnr), the Chicago lawyer that innocent people cannot afford. But the blue Ferrari in his driveway, his unfaithful model wife and sweet daughter clearly do not spell happiness. The catalyst for change is the death of Hank's mother. A trip home to the small fictitious town of Carlinville Indiana after many years away opens Pandora's box of family secrets and painful memories. Hank is travelling into territory where his outward glib lines and sharp tactics do not protect him from his own vulnerability.

The animosity between Hank and his father Judge Joseph (Duval) is immediately palpable, like a slap across the face. The history between them takes time to be revealed as does the depth of the hurts. Joseph's deteriorating health also prompts intensely vulnerable and confronting moments, including an unforgettable and poignant bathroom scene. The other players also impact. Family issues come to light with Vincent D'Onofrio effective as Hank's older brother Glenn, whose career potential as a baseball player was thwarted and Jeremy Strong as the younger, retarded brother Dale, whose focus is home movies. There is sadness with both of these characters. Vera Farmiga is terrific as the girl who owns the local bar and used to be Hank's high school girlfriend, although her Samantha would be more credible in the environment if she were not presented as such a blonde glamour-girl. Watch out for Billy Bob Thornton as the focused prosecuting lawyer who believes the law keeps things equal.

The heavy artillery is the verbal and emotional combat between father and son, as Hank gets drawn into defending his father, when the latter is accused of murder late at night on a wet road. The court room scenes are gripping. Like Hank, we never know exactly what his father is going to say; Joseph intent on retaining the credibility he has earned over 42 years presiding on the bench. Hank's focus is to use every legal trick in the book to ensure his father stays out of jail. The pain in both their eyes tell the story.

Good to see Downey Jnr in a dramatic role again. It's a powerhouse of a film, worth seeing for the performances alone.

Published February 12, 2015

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(US, 2014)

CAST: Robert Downey Jr, Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Leighton Meester, Billy Bob Thornton, Vincent D'Onforio, Dax Shepard, David Krumholtz, Sarah Lancaster, Ian Nelson

PRODUCER: David Dobkin, Susan Downey, David Gambino

DIRECTOR: David Dobkin

SCRIPT: Nick Schenk, Bill Dubuque


EDITOR: Mark Livolsi

MUSIC: Thomas Newman


RUNNING TIME: 141 minutes





DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow Home Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: February 11, 2015

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