Robert Downey, Jr., Robert Duval
Again, Robert Downey Jr. has shown that he is the premiere actor of this time and of his generation.
The movie works. Downey is a successful defense attorney whose mother dies. He has been estranged from his family and his home town since high school. His father, Robert Duval (The Judge), does not want and does not like to speak to him.
The movie is about their reconciliation. Downey learns Duval is dying, sooner than the judge admits. Downey’s presence lets Duval accept the end is near; Duval’s world is collapsing (health, death of wife, being able to take care of himself and move, and professionally). Until his son comes to town Duval has refused to submit to a reduced life.
Complicating the funeral/family situation is an accident: Duval drove his car and got into a hit- and-run accident with an enemy, without realizing it. Duval is arrested. [In California it would be a felonious hit and run which is akin to a manslaughter rap not first degree murder.] As the prosecutor Billy Bob Thornton delivers the proper doses of spite, scorn and abuse to convict Duval, as well as compassion. This movie becomes a first-rate film about the practice of law: representing family and friends, representing the elderly, trying the case and confronting and handling surprise at trial. The law and trial and Duval’s physical condition combine.
Downey’s family life in the big city is likely coming to an end. In the hometown Downey has a potential situation from his teenage years making a family life. Patricia Arquette’s scenes are brief but round out a whole family dynamic.
It is not a happy, glorious Hollywood end. Duval is convicted on a lesser included offense; he goes to prison. After a compassionate release he dies. How many actors can realize and shock of a parent’s death in his presence? Downey does by pantomime.