Hank Palmer (Downey) is a successful defense attorney who has received news that his mother has passed, and returns to his hometown of Carlinville, Indiana to attend the funeral. Once he arrives, he reunites with several members of his family, including older brother Glen (Vincent D'Onofrio), younger brother Dale (Jeremy Strong), and his father, local judge Joseph Palmer (Duvall), with whom Hank doesn't have a very good relationship.
Although Hank decides to leave due to the friction between himself and Joseph, he is forced to remain in town when it's revealed that Joseph was involved in a fatal hit-and-run involving a victim he previously ruled on during a court case. Hank decides to defend his father in court after the latter's initial choice for attorney proves disastrous, and the younger Palmer faces tough prosecutor Dwight Dickham (Billy Bob Thornton), who is pushing for a first-degree murder charge. At the same time, Hank reconnects with his family and his estranged girlfriend Sam (Vera Farmiga), whom he abandoned twenty years earlier and wishes to make amends with.
The film was the first project released under Downey's production company (which he founded with his wife Susan), Team Downey. It received mixed reviews upon release.
This film contains examples of:
- Alliterative Name: Dwight Dickham
- Amoral Attorney: Hank is like this at the start of the movie. He remarks he respects the law just fine, but he isn't "in awe of it" or "encumbered by it," plus "Innocent people can't afford me."
- Armor-Piercing Question: Hank brings up the subject of his father's chemotherapy during the trial, which leads his father to state that he has no son. He later mellows out, though.
- Asshole Victim: Mark Blackwell, an unrepentant killer whose last act was to mock Joseph, the judge who indirectly allowed him to commit the murder in question.
- Bittersweet Ending: Joseph isn't convicted of first-degree murder, but he is convicted of manslaughter. After being let out on compassionate grounds, he dies six months later of cancer with Hank by his side.
- Career-Ending Injury: Hank's brother Glen used to play baseball before a car crash ended his career.
- Daddy's Girl: Hank's daughter Lauren.
- A Date with Rosie Palms: Played for Laughs. Sam hits on Hank, but then chastises him for thinking she wanted anything more than a one-night stand and claims that she will instead go home to enact the trope.
- Deadpan Snarker: Hank. Would you expect anything less from Robert Downey Jr.?
- Defrosting Ice King: Hank, who goes from an uptight Amoral Attorney who doesn't care about his family to a compassionate man who helps his father and gets back in touch with who he was twenty years earlier.
- Designated Villain: Dwight Dickham does his very best to put Joseph in jail, because that's his job as a prosecutor. He's accused of acting on a personal vendetta against Joseph, but he insists that's ridiculous, as he's simply trying the case based on the facts. He's ultimately successful in having Joseph convicted, but later signs off on his compassionate release so he doesn't have to die in prison.
- Disappeared Dad: Hank's wife accuses him of being this and used it to justify having affairs. This royally pisses Hank off because he's shown to be an attentive and loving father who can't spend as much time with his daughter as he wants due to his work.
- Establishing Character Moment: Several, but notable is Joseph's first scene, where he's presiding over a child support hearing. When the guy protests he's broke and unemployed, Joseph confiscates his new truck, and shrugs off his protests with a short but important speech about the law. Then he tells the ex-wife exactly who to talk to at the dealership when she sells it back, and then makes an off-hand comment about figuring out how pregnancy happens. This establishes almost every important part of his character in a single scene.
- The Heart: Dale, Hank's mentally challenged younger brother. He even unknowingly causes Hank to stay.
- Irony: When flirting with small-town girl Carla, Hank jokes about her "incest-free bloodline". After making out with her, he finds out she's the daughter of his old girlfriend, and may be his daughter. Turns out, she's his niece.
- Ivy League for Everyone: Hank graduated from Northwestern Universitys law school, one of the most prestigious law schools in the United States.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Both Hank and Joseph. Like Father, Like Son, indeed.
- Jerkass Has a Point: As is typical with the Amoral Attorney trope, Hank gets a lot of guff for helping guilty people to go free. He's quick to retort that it's the prosecutor's job to prove his clients guilty, and it's their fault if they can't. Defending his client to the best of his ability is not only his job, but also his ethical duty.
- Job Title
- Manly Tears: After the trial ends and Joseph refuses to acknowledge him, Hank breaks down in tears.
- Mundane Made Awesome: Dickham's retractable metal water cup, which sports a pin-up girl on the lid. He opens it with a flick of his wrist and a great THWANG sound.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Not outright said, but Dickham seems to feel bad for somewhat winning the case against Joseph, and ends up helping get Joseph out of prison early on compassionate release.
- My Greatest Failure: Joseph showing lenience to Mark Blackwell after he threatened his girlfriend. If he hadn't given him the minimum sentence, he wouldn't have been free to murder her later.
- Potty Failure: Hank discovers that Joseph's medication has caused memory loss and incontinence, and he has to clean his father up in one scene.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Hank's ex-wife Lisa gives him one near the beginning of the film, as she rails at him for being so wrapped up in work that he doesn't have any idea how to be a parent.
- Stern Old Judge: Joseph is the older, gruff type. At the end, it's strongly hinted that Hank will take his dad's place as the town's judge, but he doesn't fit the trope's character type.
- Stress Vomit: C.P. does this. Three times. The third time, Hank ends up doing it too.
- Surprise Incest: Hank and Carla make out shortly after they meet. He learns afterward that she's his ex-girlfriend's daughter, was born nine months after they broke up, and doesn't know who her father is. Naturally, Hank panics, thinking she's his daughter. As it turns out, his brother had hooked up with his ex just after they broke up, making Carla his niece.
- Trailers Always Lie: The movie was promoted as a suspense thriller. However, it's just a Slice of Life film about a man returning home and dealing with unresolved issues with family and a love interest. Some critics took it personally.
- "Well Done, Son" Guy: Hank to his father in his teenage years. He later receives validation after his father is released from jail. Joseph later makes amends with his son before dying in a fishing boat.
- "What Now?" Ending: The film ends with Hank deliberating whether to take up his father's job as a judge or go back to Chicago.