Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB. USA, 2014. Warner Bros., Big Kid Pictures, Team Downey, Village Roadshow Pictures. Story by David Dobkin, Nick Schenk, Screenplay by Nick Schenk, Bill Dubuque. Cinematography by Janusz Kaminski. Produced by David Dobkin, Susan Downey, David Gambino. Music by Thomas Newman. Production Design by Mark Ricker. Costume Design by Marlene Stewart. Film Editing by Mark Livolsi. Academy Awards 2014. Golden Globe Awards 2014. Toronto International Film Festival 2014.
Robert Downey Jr. is a high-powered shark of a lawyer who interrupts his life of ruthlessly defending Wall Street crooks when he gets a call that his mother has died. Going back to his small town means having to face off with his elderly father (Robert Duvall), a judge with whom Downey has not spoken in years and with whom rekindled contact leads to confrontation in no time. No sooner have they parted ways when they are brought back together under upsetting circumstances: Duvall has been involved in a car accident that sees him facing a murder charge, and Downey has decided to stick around and defend him. This means drudging up issues unresolved from the past, not just his conflict with his father but also his histories with other members of the town, all of which stink of elements suggested by studio executive notes: the local lawyer (Dax Shepard) whose awshucks charm makes him useless in court, an ex-girlfriend who now owns the local restaurant (Vera Farmiga in a bad wig), the leading man’s less successful brothers, one of them held back by low self-esteem (Vincent D’Onofrio) and the other endearingly simple (Jeremy Strong). Shamelessly melodramatic and wildly uneven, the film could get a pass for indulgent soap opera if it wasn’t so ridiculously self-important while at the same time having a less convincing grasp of the world of law than Legally Blonde did. Downey has been doing this verbal-cocky-irresistible-obnoxious thing as both Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes and is clearly not noticing the fatigue we all feel seeing him coast on that persona; Duvall is doing method warbling around him in circles, not caring that the movie star is smugly adding jokes to a movie that doesn’t really want them. The whole thing just feels like it’s grabbing story elements off a shelf as it goes along, including the inclusion of some incest, most of them contributing little to the heart of the story (which I think is supposed to be the outcome of the trial), the sympathy for which is mainly engendered by a lively and sharp Duvall. The rest of the time the film’s deepest stabs at sympathy are frequently laughable and/or embarrassing.