Excelling in acting finery and showcasing majestic beautiful shots is all well good if the story is solid or at the very least powerful in the majority, alas this film stumbles on the plot points and gets lost in making any other characters beside the leads interesting and tripe-esque attempts at being emotional don’t ever work.
After hearing that his mother has passed away, great defense attorney Hank Palmer (Robert Downey, Jr.) travels back to his smaller roots in Indiana. There he reunites with his younger and older brothers, an old flame and his cantankerous father Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall) who is hiding a secret and may have just killed someone. So it’s down to the less than close pair of dad and son to try and protect his honour.
The film looks gorgeous, that’s a given with no shadow of a doubt. Locations and framings of exterior and interior places are almost exquisite. One still stands out, so simple but tells a relationship in picture alone. The sight of Joseph and Hank walking opposite directions in a stretched horizontal shot really hits home the distance they have with one another. It’s all very law and order too with browns and dull tones making the court house feel more heavy and foreboding. As the once Judge now finds himself in the firing line it twists his home environment in a cruel way and you can feel that come across.
Annoyingly a lot of the film takes too much time with Hank and Joseph, I get that it’s about their strained bond but a good film takes moments to round out supporting characters too and all other players feel badly written or at least their backgrounds get shoved in quite sketchily to make it feel like they’re important. It’s clear that the film is really working with the father/son duo though and the brothers who could be very supportive become badly drawn cliched siblings, the ex girlfriend is the typical mum and bar owner happy in the place she was born. The only other character that briefly shines is Hank’s daughter when driving in the car with him she may be spewing cliched dialogue about divorce melodrama but she gets a chance to become three dimensional.
It’s so evident that director David Dobkin and star Downey, Jr. are trying to get this film into Oscar fields of vision, what with family drama, murder mystery and deathly illness to boot, it’s sad that it’s so obvious they’re trying to garner Academy attention because it makes the possible sad moments less than so and makes the entire film feel unreal. The constant back and forth between the will-they-won’t-they reconnect family plight gets pretty tedious and it’s just so predictable that the film will become all sunshine and rainbows in the end, well maybe it doesn’t go that far but it’s obvious that the fracture could mend.
Robert Downey, Jr. is very good on the most part, he convinces the audience that his sole purpose on our planet isn’t only to play a whizzing megalomaniac superhero but that he can play a confident megalomaniac lawyer too. What I’m saying is he is so Downey, Jr a lot of the time in the film, in the beginning even more so as he just sounds like Tony Stark in his cocksure and sometime unlikable manner but then he has bold flashes of brilliance where he shows he can bang on that door of emotion and bust it open. Robert Duvall is the pinnacle of the film, he plays the grumbly weathered Judge with complications and a possible motive for murder under his hat with great aplomb. You really hate and feel for him in different scenarios and once his condition comes to the fore you really see the Duvall broken down portrayal stand out. Billy Bob Thornton is a cool little addition to the cast too and in his smaller scaled role tries getting into the heart of his character and thanks to his charm and cold looks you get slight glimmers of what he could have become given more time.
A long film that feels long and it only has the qualities of it’s two leads to really make it anything of note, if not this film is something you don’t need to see.