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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. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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