Year Released: 2014
Directed by: David Dobkin
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Vincent D’Onofrio
(R, 142 min.)
Genre: Drama, Comedy
“A jury consists of twelve person chosen to decide who has the better lawyer.” Robert Frost
Instead the courtroom drama serves mostly like Alfred Hitchcock’s infamous McGuffin, a device that sets events in motion. That and the death of Hank Palmer’s (Robert Downey Jr.'s) mother, which brings the hot shot Chicago defender back to his scourged hometown in Carlinville, Indiana. And back to the estranged father who ran his family with the same no nonsense rules as he still does his courtroom.
After putting in his appearance at the funeral – his first visit back home in 20 years – and facing his expected icy rejection, Hank is just about to fly back to the windy city when his father, Judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall) is arrested for murder.
“My father is a lot of unpleasant thing, but murderer is not one of them.”
Except the judge’s Cadillac has bloodstains on its damaged grill that match a dead body found by the roadside, and the body belongs to a just released convicted murderer who had tangled with the judge earlier. All Judge Palmer remembers is a trip to the convenience store shortly after his wife’s funeral.
As Hank tries to muster a defense, we find out as much about the semi-dysfunctional family as we do about the accident. But it’s not because Hank, his dad, or his brother Glen (Vincente D’Onofrio) like to share. Walled off from each other by unspoken sins, grievances, and wasted potential, the three are like hostile witnesses who remain mute whenever possible.
And that’s where the youngest brother Dale (Jeremy Strong) comes in. He makes his entrance at the funeral home where he films Hank’s private moment with his mother. The usually brusque Hank shows no anger and instead hugs him. Dale is mildly retarded and relates best with world through the lens of his old-fashioned movie camera. It is Dale’s own truth telling and that of his camera that lets Hank in on a secret key to the judge’s defense.
The camera, like Dale, does not filter out unpleasantness or pain: nor does it file away past joy. We see both when he shows everyone his spliced-together family history, and his audience is not altogether pleased.
Sam (Vera Farmiga), Hank’s high school flame, is also a truth teller. She sees right through Hank – his affirmed loathing of his small town, in her view, is in fact a denial of who he really is. She thrills to see him fight against bullies in the courtroom even as he bullies everyone to do so. And as Sam finally admits, she loves Hank's “hyper-verbal vocabulary vomit” as much as she hates it.
In his own taciturn way, big brother Glen (a wonderfully underplayed D’Onofrio), the once promising baseball fast pitch artist now running the local garage, gets at the truth as well. Sometimes, by not saying anything, he says it all, as in a final scene between him and Hank, where he fumbles for a response, and instead says everything with just his eyes.
There are also more than a few moments of truth between father and son. The bitter reprisals spew forth easily; the poignant realities are only pried loose, a few in the courtroom, others in of all places, a bath tub. But the final word is said in a fishing boat. And the veteran actor Duvall throws away that line like an angler casting back a small fish. But it makes all the difference.
Last year’s dysfunctional family drama, August: Osage County, was as harsh and unforgiving as the vast Oklahoma plains from which the characters arose. The Judge springs forth from Indiana’s fertile farmland and gently rolling hills.
It ends on a note of peace instead of dissonance. We could all use a little of that right now.
“In Indiana, it just wouldn’t be fall without a pan of homemade persimmon pudding.”
And as much as the fancy Chicago Lawyer tries to pretend it doesn’t exist, the Hoosier state is still very much in Hank Palmer’s veins. He has a love/hate relationship with his town as well as his distant father, the judge.
His old high school flame sidles up to him at the local café, her seductive smile and warm eyes even better than the breakfast she puts in front of him. The view through the window is almost as fabulous, water tumbling past, fast and relentless as time itself.
“Nothing has changed,” Hank laments as he pulls into Carlinville, Indiana. The town, and the straight-laced judge are as old-fashioned as ever. Some might even say that about our recipe, an old tradition. John Smith touted the round orange persimmon as early as 1612, while Civil War troops found the fruits near Nashville, Tennessee, had even survived a frost. They thought the persimmons were the most delicious thing they had ever eaten.
The brandy in our boozed up version might not have pleased the Pilgrims, but I hope most of you won’t mind.
Enjoy right now, or save this recipe for Thanksgiving. It’s sure to bring you lots of requests for “More, please.”
Boozy Persimmon Pudding
Persimmon pudding is an American classic that seems to have fallen out of fashion; give this quick, easy dessert a try and you’ll wish persimmons were available year-round.
What to buy: We used Hachiya persimmons in this recipe. They must be totally ripe and very soft or they’ll impart an astringent note to the pudding.
Game plan: The pudding will last up to 5 days when refrigerated in a covered container.
Serves 10 to 12
- 6 to 7 very ripe Hachiya persimmons
- 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon orange zest
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 cup packed light brown sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), melted, plus more for coating the dish
- 1/4 cup brandy
. Heat the oven to 350°F and arrange a rack in the middle.
. With a paring knife, trim away and discard the stem from one persimmon.
. Using a spoon, scoop out the pulp and discard the skin.
. Place the pulp in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a blade attachment, being careful not to include any of the tannic skin. Repeat with the remaining persimmons. Process the pulp until smooth, about 1 minute. Measure and set aside 2 cups of puréed pulp. Discard or reserve any extra pulp for another use.
. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, nutmeg, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, and orange zest in a large bowl to aerate and break up any lumps; set aside. Coat a 13-by-9-inch baking dish with butter and set aside
. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, combine the persimmon pulp, milk, brown sugar, and eggs on low speed until evenly blended. Add the melted butter and brandy and whisk until just incorporated. Add the flour mixture in four parts, letting the flour incorporate before adding the next part and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary until the flour is totally incorporated.
. Turn the batter into the prepared dish and bake until a cake tester insertedinto the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature with toasted hazelnuts and ice cream, yogurt, or whipped cream.