Horizon at Sandy Point

Monday, May 4, 2015

Justice and the Judge

What parent ever knows what actions to follow to fulfil a child's dreams? To set him or her on the "right" path? To administer discipline tempered with love? To care for but not to smother?

Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall) is the judge for over 40 years in a US small town. When his wife dies, estranged son, hotshot big city (Chicago) lawyer Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr) returns home. Life hasn't changed for his father nor his brothers, Glen (Vincent D'Onofrio) and Dale (Jeremy Strong). Hank is clearly the misfit in his countrified family; and he plans to leave as soon as the formalities are over. Real life is his own failing marriage, the daughter he dotes on, the lucrative cases defending the indefensible.

Incidents conspire to keep him after the funeral. His father goes out to pick up milk and has an accident. He is suspected and investigated in a homicide. Hank's stay is extended. What we see are the roots and ties that shaped him and still hold him.  This place, these people that are so annoyingly unchanging, so retro, so backwoods, so dispensable to him. Until he has the time to peel below the layers of his assumptions.

His brother Glen could have been a super baseball player. His brother Dale is still simple but kind. His father would rather die than lose the credibility of his steadfast upright life. In the end, Hank figures out that time never stood still in his smalltown home, although all the players are still embroiled in tightly coiled circular lives. In the end, his brothers, his family, his father, still love him, accept him. In the end, he learns that he was never far from his father's thoughts, even his worst and best decisions.

By a twist of fate, the judge comes to trial. Did he kill the man on the bicycle? Was it just an accident? We are forced to re-assess our perceptions of the judge, a father, a husband, a man near the end of his career his life. What thoughts, what feelings have gone into his decisions, what second guessing, what re-assessments. Did I do the right thing? The heart of the judge.

For his superb performance, Robert Duvall was nominated for the Best Supporting Actor of the Year (Oscar, Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild, Broadcast Film Critics Association) winning it from the Hollywood Film Awards.

Probably the most typical scene between a father and son becomes powerful beyond words, played by Robert Duvall and Robert Downey Jr. See below

Hank Palmer: Why'd you pull me out of Boy Scouts?
Judge Joseph Palmer: As punishment for blowing up the McCraw's mailbox with M80s.
Hank Palmer: I was 13. *That* you remember. *That*!
Judge Joseph Palmer: Oh, old enough to know better.
Hank Palmer: You didn't come to my high school graduation or college. Why?
Judge Joseph Palmer: [Overlapping] Oh, boo-fucking-hoo. "Why?" Jail time, truancy, I don't get to reward anything! None of your shit!
Hank Palmer: I graduated from *law school*, for Christ's sake.
Judge Joseph Palmer: As opposed to what? Dropping out?
Hank Palmer: Fuck you!
Judge Joseph Palmer: Let me tell you something, okay? I put a roof over your head, money in your pocket, clothes on your back... *food* in your *mouth*! Who paid for that college education? I never showed up to kiss your ass, but your mother? She's a house wife! Why couldn't you swallow your God damned pride and just come home to her? You tell me why!
Hank Palmer: [On the verge of tears] You know, you'd invite people at the end of their parole back to court... You'd *recognize* those who did their time, turned their lives around, made something of themselves. Everyone in the court applauded, and you made sure they did! Tell them how *proud* you were... Proud of *fucking* strangers!
Judge Joseph Palmer: Is that all you wanted, Henry, was a kind word? An 'atta boy? Then to use your words, you should have *come* the *fuck* home! We all waited, *quietly*, but you never came. Okay? And I was the one she'd blame, because you wouldn't come home. Me. Now, was I tough on you? Yes. How'd you turn out, Henry? Waiting tables? A bum?
Hank Palmer: You put me in Juvenile Detention... you sent me to fucking Vanderburgh!
Judge Joseph Palmer: [Interrupting] No, no, no, no, no, you put yourself there.
Hank Palmer: Did I?
Judge Joseph Palmer: Yes.
Hank Palmer: The prosecutor recommended community service. That was *your* call!
Judge Joseph Palmer: No, no, no, it wouldn't have *helped* you!
Hank Palmer: I didn't need *help*, I needed *you*!
Judge Joseph Palmer: You were high, you rolled a car with your brother in it! He had a major league career ahead of him, a 90 mile-an-hour fast ball, and he runs a turnip shop! You crippled him, you stole his future, and you call *me* an ass hole?
Hank Palmer: What do you want from me? I was 17 when that happened. I was *17*.
Judge Joseph Palmer: Oooh, "I was 13, I was 17." You were headed down the wrong path! I did what I thought was right.
Hank Palmer: [Holding back tears] You know, I didn't just graduate from law school, I graduated first in my class... I was *first* in my class... I did *really* well, dad.
Judge Joseph Palmer: You're welcome.
[Walks out of the room]
Hank Palmer: [Grits his teeth and clenches his fist; he sits at the kitchen table, speaking in a barely audible voice] Fuck... Damn this house... God damn this *fucking* house...