Directed by David Dobkin
From the beginning, it’s made obvious Downey’s Hank is the type of rich shyster lawyer who only cares about winning his cases, regardless of whether his client is guilty or not. Once Hank arrives back home to attend his mother’s funeral, he’s immediately fighting with his bereaved father while his older and younger brother (Vincent D’Onofrio and Jeremy Stronger) try to stay out of their way. Hank’s father, the honorable Judge Joseph Palmer (Duvall), may have started drinking again, but when he returns home from a trip to the store, his car is damaged tying him to a late night hit and run where the victim was a criminal just released from jail that the judge let off too easy and went on to commit murder.
Before becoming Tony Stark, Downey had always been a solid dramatic actor though it’s harder to believe him as an unrepentant business-first lawyer and a defiant son. Because he’s endeared himself so much to moviegoers with lighter roles, he winds up being more credible in the moments when he shows compassion and warmth than his “bad side.” Duvall, on the other hand, seems perfectly suited for his role and he gives another stand-out performance where he can be commanding as this tough country judge but also vulnerable as a widower with health issues.
Unfortunately, much of the rest of the cast knows better than to try to steal any of their thunder, which includes a passive Vincent D’Onofrio barely trying hard as Hank’s older brother. Then there’s their younger brother Dale, pleasantly slow-witted and obsessed with his old film cameras, allowing for lots of scenes of old family home movies being shown and buckets full of sentimentality.
The fact is that Dobkin seems out of his depth directing his first straight drama, possibly intimidated by the realization he’s working with such acting powerhouses, few of which who would need any sort of direction at this point in their careers (It should be noted that Downey is also one of the film’s producers.) In one scene, Duvall and Downey literally scream exposition at each other, yelling about their history as father and son. Good luck catching or retaining any of that, though. In general, the scenes between Duvall and Downey should be the strongest but their relationship is just all over the place, rather than evolving or growing.
The same can be said for the movie, which much of the time is just dull, especially the first 30 minutes before the main plot is introduced. It’s not exactly treading new ground even with its obvious subplots, many of which we’ve seen in countless festival films, the most notable one being Hank reconnecting with his high school sweetheart Samantha, played by the always-excellent Vera Fermiga. This tangent was already quite unnecessary, but then it’s bogged down further with a deliberate red herring involving Samantha’s grown daughter (Leighton Meester).
Granted, there are some nice moments interspersed through the movie, though the best scenes, surprisingly enough, are the ones between Downey and his young daughter Lauren (Emma Tremblay). Even so, those seem so shoe-horned into the story they easily could have been expendable if one wanted to make any sort of effort to cut down the film’s excessive running time.
If the film isn’t boring enough, the second half is interspersed with the kind of half-hearted courtroom drama we’ve seen in way too many films with Hank trying to get his father off from the murder charges – we won’t go further into details and convolute things further. The courtroom scenes are bland enough before they climax with an absolutely ludicrous revelation that will make you roll your eyes when it happens.
The film is soaked in so much sentimentality that by the time Bon Iver starts playing on the soundtrack, you’re going to want to start pulling your hair out. The score in general doesn’t do much to help the often overwrought dramatic scenes or do much to save a movie that’s floundering almost as soon as it starts and then never quite figures out what it needs to do in order to rescue itself.
The Bottom Line: