This film marks the first time that ‘Team Downey’, Robert Downey Jr’s new production company formed with his producer wife Susan, has worked on a film and with his announcement that the company would be involved in all his future films, so it’s quite a momentous occasion. Signing director David Dobkin to the cause and assembling a brilliant cast featuring the likes of Robert Duvall, Vincent D’Onofrio, Vera Farmiga and Billy Bob Thornton, the film always looked promising. The only thing that seemed cause for concern is Dobkin’s filmography, which is suspect at best and features ‘Wedding Crashers’ as a rare example of a film that may just be worthwhile. We won’t even consider ‘I Know Consider You Chuck & Larry’.
Somewhat predictably Dobkin does struggle with the divergence from his usual by the numbers romcom so the film is somewhat uneven, struggling at times to mix its moments of comedy in with the more emotional or dramatic sections. It is however held up well by its wonderful cast, with Downey Jr his usual charming and witty self in the type of role that he relishes as Hank Palmer, an arrogant defence lawyer who is forced to return to his hometown. Duvall is typically brilliant too, giving a powerhouse performance as Hank’s toughnut dad, but you can already tell from the character descriptions that this is no completely original story by any means.
What it is though is sincere, heartfelt and regularly amusing, and an example of one of those films that overcomes its flaws, of which there may be many, ranging from the underdevelopment of Vera Farmiga’s interesting character to its wild tonal shifts. It’s strange to be so critical of a film that ultimately did manage to entertain, amuse and resonate in all of its 142 minute runtime, but while it is a highly entertaining romp, it feels like it could have been something a bit bigger with a steadier hand at the helm.
It’s a testament to the film that it involves us in the characters well enough for us to ignore the clichés and the courtroom drama schlock and thoroughly enjoy ourselves. It’s definitely the case that the film is at its best when it’s examining Hank’s family and their relationships, their past and their present, and lots of the family scenes are where the glimpses of something even better are, with the courtroom scenes feeling a little out of place at times. They are however improved by a charismatic performance by Billy Bob Thornton, whose appearance as a rival lawyer to Hank is a welcome one. Also impressing is Dax Shepard in a small role that he nonetheless manages to squeeze laughs out of, working well as a team with Downey Jr. Ultimately it’s the performances and the heart of the film that take it through, ensuring that it never loses its well worn but still effective shine. It just feels like it could have been a masterpiece.
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