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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. It's a big fat black mark against the US that they radicalized a lot of these Afghan jihadis in the 80s to fight the soviets and then when they predictably got around to biting the hand that fed them, the US had to invade their homelands, install a bunch of corrupt drug kingpins and kleptocrats, take these guys and torture the hell out of them. Why for example did the US have to sodomize them? Dubya said "they hate us for our freedoms!" Here, try some of that freedom whether you like it or not!!! Now they got even more reasons to hate us-- lets just keep bombing the crap out of their populations, installing more puppet regimes, arming one faction against another, etc etc etc.... the US is becoming a monster. No wonder they hate us. Here's my modest recommendation. How about we follow "Just War" theory in the future. St Augustine had it right. How about we treat these obvious prisoners of war according to the Geneva convention instead of torturing them in sadistic and perverted ways.

  2. As usual, John is "spot-on." The subtle but poignant points he makes are numerous and warrant reflection by mediators and users. Oh but were it so simple.

  3. ACLU. Way to step up against the police state. I see a lot of things from the ACLU I don't like but this one is a gold star in its column.... instead of fighting it the authorities should apologize and back off.

  4. Duncan, It's called the RIGHT OF ASSOCIATION and in the old days people believed it did apply to contracts and employment. Then along came title vii.....that aside, I believe that I am free to work or not work for whomever I like regardless: I don't need a law to tell me I'm free. The day I really am compelled to ignore all the facts of social reality in my associations and I blithely go along with it, I'll be a slave of the state. That day is not today......... in the meantime this proposed bill would probably be violative of 18 usc sec 1981 that prohibits discrimination in contracts... a law violated regularly because who could ever really expect to enforce it along the millions of contracts made in the marketplace daily? Some of these so-called civil rights laws are unenforceable and unjust Utopian Social Engineering. Forcing people to love each other will never work.

  5. I am the father of a sweet little one-year-old named girl, who happens to have Down Syndrome. To anyone who reads this who may be considering the decision to terminate, please know that your child will absolutely light up your life as my daughter has the lives of everyone around her. There is no part of me that condones abortion of a child on the basis that he/she has or might have Down Syndrome. From an intellectual standpoint, however, I question the enforceability of this potential law. As it stands now, the bill reads in relevant part as follows: "A person may not intentionally perform or attempt to perform an abortion . . . if the person knows that the pregnant woman is seeking the abortion solely because the fetus has been diagnosed with Down syndrome or a potential diagnosis of Down syndrome." It includes similarly worded provisions abortion on "any other disability" or based on sex selection. It goes so far as to make the medical provider at least potentially liable for wrongful death. First, how does a medical provider "know" that "the pregnant woman is seeking the abortion SOLELY" because of anything? What if the woman says she just doesn't want the baby - not because of the diagnosis - she just doesn't want him/her? Further, how can the doctor be liable for wrongful death, when a Child Wrongful Death claim belongs to the parents? Is there any circumstance in which the mother's comparative fault will not exceed the doctor's alleged comparative fault, thereby barring the claim? If the State wants to discourage women from aborting their children because of a Down Syndrome diagnosis, I'm all for that. Purporting to ban it with an unenforceable law, however, is not the way to effectuate this policy.

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