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Hammerle On: Hammerle pays tribute to colleague’s spirit and humor

Robert Hammerle
July 31, 2013
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bob hammerle movie reviewsIn this issue, Robert Hammerle reviews “The Way Way Back” and also remembers C. Joseph Russell, an Indianapolis attorney who died July 17.

The Way Way Back
As I contemplated the recent tragic death of our dear friend Joe Russell, I needed a movie that championed the human spirit. “The Way Way Back” is that film.

First of all, be prepared to cry, because I surely did. No, there are no deaths or tragic illnesses, but only an examination of life through the eyes of Duncan, a 14-year-old boy. Played here by Liam James, you see him wrestle with life as his divorced mother embraces a tarnished soul that he justifiably can’t stand.

This is an emotionally evocative film that is utterly magical on multiple levels. Young Duncan accompanies his mother, her paramour and his daughter to his summer lake home. As always, Toni Collette shines as a woman desperately trying to rationalize finding love in all the wrong places. Steve Carell, playing against image, is a first-class bastard who treats young Duncan as little more than a degraded manservant.

However, the movie explodes with both venom and hilarity once our twisted family gets to the lake. Allison Janney plays an outrageously boozy next-door-neighbor, a divorced mother of two who consistently embarrasses her young son because of his amblyopic right eye. I suffer from that affliction, and I wanted to slap her.
hammerle_box.jpgAnnaSophia Robb plays Ms. Janney’s daughter, a young girl who hates the lake as much as Duncan does. They form a friendship and are forced to watch their parents consistently act as if they are on some type of an adult spring break.

But what makes “The Way Way Back” erupt with utter comic delight is the appearance of Sam Rockwell as an employee of a nearby water park. He is as offbeat as he is without pretense, and his hysterical assault on the world entertains everyone but his good-natured girlfriend, here played by the polite and lovely Maya Rudolph.
As Duncan tries to escape from his depressing vacation home, he begins to secretly work at the water park under Mr. Rockwell’s direction. In the process, he finds both meaning and inspiration, and there are episodes that will charm even you hard cynics.

I have always loved Toni Collette. Despite being wounded by a failed marriage, what her character sees in Carell’s character is hard to understand.

Let me simply say that Mr. Rockwell’s performance as Owen is classic, and it deserves to be remembered at Oscar time. He may appear to be socially demented, but he has a heart of gold that helps Duncan find some missing self-respect.

In addition, Mr. Rockwell is dancing on the edge of greatness. See his outrageous performance in last year’s “Seven Psychopaths,” and then go watch him play the unapologetic Victor Mancini in “Choke” (2008), a man who embraces masturbation as a full-time job.

By the end of the film, I was overwhelmed with a sense of passionate joy. Because of Mr. Rockwell’s Owen, young Duncan and his mother were able to rediscover each other. Joe Russell would have loved this movie.

A tribute to Joe Russell

While I referred to his tragic death in my review of “The Way Way Back,” allow me to spend a few minutes talking about our beloved friend and colleague Joe Russell. You need to understand why I miss him.

While we all hope that his beloved wife, Betsy, can find a bit of sanctuary as time passes, she had the good fortune to be married to a man who was one of the funniest human beings I’ve ever met. I worked on a number of difficult cases with him over the years, but no conversation ended without both of us laughing hysterically.

As an example, permit me to describe an incident that took place in the old Hilton Hotel located in downtown Indianapolis four years ago. I had just met with a young woman and her parents the evening before her first federal court hearing in a matter involving a huge fraud conspiracy out of New York. Without saying more, my client was psychologically shot. No matter what I said, she collapsed in tears, and I finally had to leave her under the watchful eye of her anguished mother.

As I exited the elevator, I walked through the hotel lobby near what was then a small bar. At that moment, an attractive woman aggressively approached me, grabbed me by the arm, and said, “Bob, why won’t you admit that you are the father of our child?”

After looking at her in shock, I mumbled, “What?” She aggressively responded, “Don’t try to pull that nonsense again on me. If you have an ounce of integrity left in you, you will simply admit the truth and quit escaping responsibility for our child.”

Frantically looking at her, I grabbed her by the arm and walked off into a corner saying, “Who are you?” She yelled back quickly, “Don’t pull that crap on me, Hammerle. You may have an honorable reputation, but if you want to keep it, now is the time to quit running from your past.”

As I stared at her, I heard some noise coming from the bar. Looking over my shoulder, I saw Joe and his colleagues laughing hysterically. It seems they were having a small office get together, and he sent his secretary over to me to trap me into this God-awful prank.

As Joe was fighting to catch his breath, I came up to him and yelled, “Order me whatever you’re drinking!” I then leaned over to him and whispered, “The tragedy is, you sorry SOB, for a moment I was left wondering if this really had happened!”

I should also note that Joe and I always enjoyed trying to outdo the other with proposed inscriptions on our tombstones. In that regard, we both loved the Dos Equis TV commercial where the debonair man with the gray beard eloquently finishes with the classic saying, “Stay thirsty, my friend.”

Well, Joe, I’ll stay thirsty, and I’ll do it in your honor.•

__________

Robert Hammerle practices criminal law in Indianapolis. To read more of his reviews, visit www.bigmouthbobs.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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  1. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  2. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  3. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

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  5. Some in the Hoosier legal elite consider this prayer recommended by the AG seditious, not to mention the Saint who pledged loyalty to God over King and went to the axe for so doing: "Thomas More, counselor of law and statesman of integrity, merry martyr and most human of saints: Pray that, for the glory of God and in the pursuit of His justice, I may be trustworthy with confidences, keen in study, accurate in analysis, correct in conclusion, able in argument, loyal to clients, honest with all, courteous to adversaries, ever attentive to conscience. Sit with me at my desk and listen with me to my clients' tales. Read with me in my library and stand always beside me so that today I shall not, to win a point, lose my soul. Pray that my family may find in me what yours found in you: friendship and courage, cheerfulness and charity, diligence in duties, counsel in adversity, patience in pain—their good servant, and God's first. Amen."

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