Published on October 10th, 2014 | by gareth0
Family dramas are nothing new for most people but for hotshot defense lawyer Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.), things are about to get supremely intense following the passing of his mother. Forced to go back to the small Indiana town that he grew up in, Hank has very much become the victim of his success in Chicago. While he has material goods and a wonderful daughter, his marriage is falling apart and he returns home out of a sense of duty, eager to get away from their at his earliest opportunity. His brothers Glen and Dale (Vincent D’Ofrio and Jeremy Strong), are happy to see him but unfortunately the visit brings up old wounds between Hank and his father Judge Palmer (Robert Duvall).
The duo have a very bitter history between them and at their mothers wake things can best be described as icily civil between them. Hank looks forward to catching the early flight out in the morning eager to put the town behind him forever when early the next morning their lives take a change when the judges prize Cadillac is discovered to have damage consistent from a collision.
These feisty and defiant judge claims he hit nothing and he maintains this stance even when the police show up and he is suspected of vehicular homicide. Further compounding the case is that the victim was known to the judge and had been recently released after being sentenced for murder. The fact that the two individuals had a prior and bitter history with one another makes the judge a prime candidate for vehicular homicide.
Despite his best wishes and in defiance of his father, Hank decides to represent his father and pending trial as he clearly sees that his father’s representative (Dax Sheppard), is no match for the hotshot prosecutor (Billy Bob Thornton), that is been brought in to prosecute the judge. In what can best be described as a hate/hate relationship Hank is supremely conflicted but wants to do right by his father.
Further complicating matters is the emergence of his old high school girlfriend Samantha (Vera Farmiga), who causes Hank to revisit childhood memories both painful and pleasant. Along the way new discoveries are made that causes Hank to reevaluate his father as well as his life and family and take stock of his priorities.
The film has some funny and tender moments in between the courtroom proceedings which at times our little incredulous yet always captivating.
The cast is first-rate specifically Downey Jr. and Duvall who do Oscar quality work in their roles. While some may be quick to dismiss the film is courtroom procedural, I found “The Judge” to be a very interesting and engaging human drama about very real characters and their all too relatable clauses human beings. These are not Teflon superheroes but rather real flesh and blood people confronted with problems and emotions that people in the audience should be able to rate late to even if they had not experienced them first-hand.
The supporting cast was fantastic and the pacing of the film helped to move things along despite the nearly two-hour runtime. The film is rated R due to some very intense moments and conversations between the characters but stands out as one of the more memorable and enjoyable films of 2014 .
4 stars out of 5
Second Review by Amara Dumlao
After many years of distance big city lawyer, Hank Palmer (Robert Downey, Jr.), is returning home and nothing short of murder could keep him there. When his estranged father, the small town’s beloved judge, is accused of homicide Palmer is forced to come face to face with a lifetime of complicated truths.
Often when a film is this drenched in cameos it drowns the plot; moving the audience away from the story and into to a visual game of hide and go seek. For many the opportunity to see Billy Bob Thornton, David Krumholtz, and Dax Shepard suited up as lawyers is all it takes to make the cost of admission worthwhile. Thoroughly dotted with familiar television faces, like once “Gossip Girl” Leighton Meester and “Twin Peaks” favorite Grace Zabriskie, it is surprising “The Judge” is able to keep a methodological slow pace while maintaining viewer intrigue. The reason it stays on target is simple the two leads, Robert Downey, Jr. and Robert Duval,l who play the estranged father-son relationship so well you’ll be tempted to call home.
This is no 1980s’ Robert Downey Jr. flick and it is an even further stretch from his block buster super hero persona; the metaphorical “Iron Man” in “The Judge” is played by Duvall. But Downey, Jr. doesn’t abandon the personality he is known for, sneaking in the occasional smug moment as well as his required shot or two of charm. But this is a character that really speaks to Downey’s dramatic skill. Exploring the evolving role of family in one’s life, “The Judge” brings up big questions: Can you ever really leave where you come from? Can a family overcome anything? Can you really outgrow the past? As Palmer reconnects with where he comes from, it seems Downey is finally breaking free of his own historic demons to bringing to the screen the dramatic actor we’ve always hoped he is. I see a nomination in the future.
Proving there is more to a story, not to mention Downey, than a fast moving plot, “The Judge” offers viewers something wonderful: a reminder of the impact we leave on each other and on many levels what it means to judge.