Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington



From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 1453, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302


Media Watch
Downey and Duvall shine in ‘The Judge’; Martin Sheen explores faith, fatherhood, and celebrity in ‘Along the Way’

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the November 20, 2014 edition of the Inland Register)

Movie Review

I have to admit despite all the punky reviews and its poor results at the box office, I enjoyed David Dobkin’s new film, The Judge. Sure, it is like many a movie of a dysfunctional family combined with a version of one of the thousands of incarnations of Law and Order that have be on TV, but it is has moments of brilliant acting that are worth seeing.

The cocky “master of the universe,” big-city (that looks like Chicago) defense lawyer (who only the rich can afford) is called back to the small Indiana town that he has always hated for the funeral of his beloved mother.

Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) has not spoken to his father, Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall), for years. So their meeting at this time is cold and frozen, as if a huge wall exists between them.

Hank is going through a divorce and will fight for custody of his 7-year-old precocious and lovable daughter, Lauren (Emma Tremblay). Arriving in town, he has a brief sexual liaison that verbally is referred to through much of the movie and is totally unnecessary.

We already clearly know that, except for his relationship with his daughter, Hank is not someone you ever want to have a beer with.

The main clash of the movie involves Joseph, the long-serving judge of the community who is the paragon of justice and good order. After the death of his wife, Joseph is accused of running over a man he let out of prison early and who later committed a murder.

So Hank stays to defend his father, even though his father demands a local lawyer (Dax Sheperd) be first chair. There are scenes of humor throughout the film, but it is the clash between father and son that makes this movie one to see.

Downey and Duvall let all the stops out several times. There is a powerful scene of the son helping his father in the bathroom when the Judge loses control of his bodily functions. Another one is in the kitchen, where you have two great actors, as they say, “eat up the scenery.”

The woman characters are not used to their full extent. Vera Farmiga is an excellent actress with little time in a long film. Billy Bob Thornton is terrific in a subdued way in the role of the prosecuting attorney.

Yes, the film is scattered and sentimental at times. Yes, the ending seems contrived to get a tear or two. But it is great to see a movie for adults that goes beyond comic book heroics.

The town of Carlinville, Ind. is actually a town in Massachusetts that has a river and a falls running through it in a low-key Spokane way.

The Judge is far from a memorable movie, but it is gift to see an 83-year-old Duvall give us his all with a Robert Downey Jr. who doesn’t need to be able to fly.

The Judge is rated R-restricted (under 17 requires an accompanying parent or adult guardian) by the Motion Picture Association of America. Catholic News Service rates the film L-Limited adult audiences – films whose problematic content many adults may find troubling.

Book Reviews

Along The Way: The Journey of a Father and Son, written by Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez with the help of Hope Edelman, is available from Free Press for a hardcover list price of $27. The book was published in 2012.

I found this memoir of the Hollywood stars Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez both informative and interesting. The book is the story of the two stars told in different chapters from each of the principals’ point of view.

Entwined with historic events are chapters on the filming of The Way, in which Martin starred and Emilio directed, telling the fictional account of four people making the pilgrimage over 500 miles across Spain to the remains of St. James, believed to be at the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. (Editor’s note: Father Caswell’s original review of The Way, which he called one of the best films of 2011, can be found online here.)

Along The Way is above all a story of family and the relations of a rising star in films with his children as they grow into adulthood.

For Martin, whose Hollywood name, comes from the great Catholic evangelizer, Bishop Fulton Sheen, it begins with birth in 1940. We follow him through his Spanish background, to early days in New York, struggling in the theater, to having a family of his own, and the move to California. Sheen has major roles in several classic films, including Badlands and Apocalypse Now and smaller roles in Catch-22 and Gandhi. And long remembered will be Sheen’s role as President Bartlett in the long-running television series The West Wing.

But from Sheen’s point of view, his return to the Catholic Church after being away for 12 years is key to his very active role in demonstrating for numerous Catholic social justice issues. So we have a journey of faith in the father’s story, and a journey by the son that does not directly involve the Church because it was not part of his upbringing, toward meaning in family and spirituality.

For Martin, the story includes alcoholism and the questions of how much time he was away from family. For Emilio, there is the question of how a man in his 20s deals with the issues of popularity and money as a young star?

The five chapters out of 21 on the making of The Way get lost a bit in the more biographical chapters on the life of Martin and Emilio. But the final chapter on the movie gives fascinating detail on the complications of getting permission for the film to show the large censer in use at the Cathedral in Compostela. The Botafumeiro, as it is called, weighs 176 pounds and is almost five feet in height. After negotiations, the censer is included in the film and is a visual highlight of The Way.

For anyone interested in the relations between father and son through the years, and in the context of famous movies with a faith component, Along the Way is a thoughtful journey.

*****

In his review of the film Calvary in the Aug. 18-25, 2014 issue of America magazine, Ronan McCoy wrote: “In the second confession scene in the film, (Father James) Lavelle responds to all this brokenness: ‘God is great. The limits of his mercy have not been set.’”

Cardinal Walter Kasper writes a strong case in theological and pastoral language that mercy must be raised to one of the key virtues in his new book Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life. The book, translated from the German by William Madges, is published in hardcover by Paulist Press for a list price of $29.95.

Mercy was a bit of struggle for me to get through. But I make no claim to be an expert on a major theological work. Early on, Cardinal Kasper points out how important this virtue is in the 21st century, while it has been neglected by theological writings in the past. He begins with philosophical approaches to mercy and then goes to the Old and New Testaments’ reflections on mercy. He then argues that mercy is God’s defining attribute. He follows this with an emphasis on practical ways of living a life of mercy and how it connects with the Church’s social teaching. The end of the book reflects on the Blessed Virgin Mary as an archetype of mercy.

One of the more beautiful passages is in Cardinal Kasper’s section on Mary. He writes: “Mary too had to walk the pilgrim’s path of faith. In her life, as reported in the Gospels, there are none of those wondrous things with which the apocryphal gospels and pious legends wish to embellish it. Quite to the contrary, Mary, the woman of the people had to bear and survive many difficulties and hardships: childbirth in an emergency shelter; the flight to Egypt; the search for her child; her disconcertment over the public life of her son whom she wanted to keep at home with his family; and finally her brave endurance under her son’s cross. She was spared nothing.”

Those with a devotion to the Divine Mercy popularized by Sister Faustina Kowalska will find eight pages throughout the book that speak of her efforts to bring mercy to the forefront of spirituality.

Sadly, the book only has an index of names and not of topics, so it is a little difficult to go back to sections you want to read.

Eighty-one-year-old Cardinal Kasper has done a service to the Church in bringing the virtue of mercy into the major theological discussions of our time.

*****

I recently heard Louise Penny interviewed on public radio. Then I ran into her new mystery novel, The Long Way Home. It is published by Minotaur Books in hardcover for a list price of $27.99. It is the most recent of nine previous books which I assume are also centered on her character Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of Surete du Quebec.

In the most recent novel he is newly retired with his wife in the village of Three Rivers, Quebec, which is just 10 miles from the Vermont border.

First of all, I suspect it would help to have read one or two of the most recent novels, but I found myself able to understand what some of the references to the past were all about and did not feel I was missing too much by this being the first book I’ve read by Louise Penny.

At the beginning of the book, she tells us she is particularly influenced by three novels: Homer’s Odyssey, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead. Since Robinson’s novel is at the top of my list of contemporary novels, my interest increased in reading this search for a missing artist-husband that includes a threatening journey up the St. Lawrence River.

What make me so excited about this traditional mystery are the connections to religious and spiritual themes, even though the very interesting characters seem secular.

Gamache is asked by an artist in Three Rivers named Clara to search for her husband, Peter, also an artist, who has failed to show up for a special dinner, after the two have been separated for one year. The inspector-emeritus eventually says he will help if she is in charge of making the successive decisions of which direction the search goes.

The cast of characters expands to Gamache’s son-in-law, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, and Clara’s best friend, Myrna Landers, and Gamache’s wife, Reine-Marie. There are others, including Ruth, who has a pet duck named Rosa, and Olivier, who owns the local bistro.

Penny’s book has connections to Donna Tartt’s monumental work The Goldfinch (“Media Watch,” IR 3/20/14) in that it, too, is about the value of painted art and its deeper significance for our lives.

In terms of lyrical style or use of metaphors, Penny is straightforward in her descriptions of the beauty and starkness of the nature which is Quebec. She does not use unique metaphors, as do Anthony Doerr and James Lee Burke. But she is powerful in taking a basic mystery story and raising it to new levels with its connections to our human woundedness and our spiritual lives.

Throughout the novel, retired Inspector Gamache reaches for a small book that he found next to his father, at his father’s death. It centers on the theme: “There is a balm in Gilead / To make the wounded whole” and “There’s power enough in Heaven / To cure a sin-sick soul.”

Louise Penny has written an intriguing mystery with characters you care about, and added a powerful dimension of suggesting how we live our lives for others as better persons.

(Father Caswell is Inland Register archivist.)


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