It doesn’t have to be groundbreaking or even all that original to be good; just a good cast, well written dialogue and a well executed story line. If the characters are realized well enough, and the actors put all they have into their respective roles, then at the very least it should be a good time at the movies. This is exactly what The Judge is; predictable and previously used story elements, yes, but it’s all done wonderfully and with this cast is an entertaining and very heartwarming story. It does exactly what I thought it would do, but since I was willing to watch it knowing what I was probably going to see, I was okay with it. It attempts to pull your heartstrings and make you laugh while always trying to maintain some semblance of relatability. This is its most commendable trait; it tries to relate to its audience despite the heightened element of a murder trial.
The estranged son, the stubborn-as-a-bull father and the slightly off-kilter family caught in the middle… They all live in a small town that one son simply couldn’t escape from fast enough, and who is of course forced to return to that which he considers old news and bad news. These are story elements we’ve seen time and time again, but I think in some cases such as this it still works. I think it speaks to all of us who at one point or another feel the need to escape. Whether it’s the city/town you live in or leaving your parent’s house to make it on your own, at some point we all have a need to move on to somewhere new. With a great cast led commandingly and hilariously by Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall, The Judge evokes a certain amount of nostalgia in those willing to let it. To remember things long since passed, that’s always a welcome emotion for me even, on occasion, the sadder moments. At least I can say I lived through it. It has its funny moments, as is expected from a David Dobkin film, but without a doubt the dramatic side is front and center here and at times it’s truly sad to experience as some of the scarier “life moments” are all too real.
Hank Palmer (Downey Jr.) is his father’s son. If you ask him, this is the greatest tragedy that has ever befallen him. Joseph Palmer (Duvall) is Hank’s father, who is anything but cuddly. He has been a judge for forty-two years and he most certainly took his work home with him. His boys were reluctant recipients of his worldly wisdom that he so “graciously” gave to them. This advice was mostly criticism, yelling and stern lectures. He is a judge and expects complete obedience in the court room as well as his home. When Joseph’s wife (Hank’s mom) dies, the family congregates to mourn the loss of their loved one. From the moment Hank arrives the hostility between him and his father starts up as if it never stopped, and for nearly the entire time Hank is back the fighting ensues. After the funeral Hank can’t get out of this backward town quick enough, but on his way out he receives a call that changes life as he knows it. His brother tells him that the police took their father to the station for questioning in a possible homicide involving their father’s beloved Cadillac. The evidence is there. And Hank being a top notch lawyer, the defense is there too; the only problem is Joseph himself. He’s a stubborn old bastard and refuses to let anyone truly help him, especially his least favorite child, Hank. Despite everything in Hank screaming for him to leave town, the thought of his father dying in prison weighs too heavily on him and so even though his father wants nothing to do with him, he stays and the case begins.
One of my favorite things about this film is the relationships between all the characters. It feels like a small town with a lot of history, and to watch Downey Jr.’s character continuously run into it around every corner is amusing and reminiscent. He sees old friends, estranged family and old flames who still have a thing for him. It’s about how much he can take of all this “remember when” talk before he loses his mind. With his bull-headed father hanging in the balance and his own life back in the big city falling apart, Hank is juggling a lot and Downey Jr. plays him perfectly. A definite bright light here is the always stunning and beautiful Vera Farmiga, who plays the old girlfriend subtly but delightfully. That’s the overall tone of the film, delightful. It’s been done before but it’s still a welcome, pleasurable time at the movies.
Rated R For: language including some sexual references
Run Time: 141 minutes
After Credits Scene: None
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Vincent D’Onofrio, Billy Bob Thornton
Directed By: David Dobkin
Out of 5 Nerdskulls
Story: 3.5/ Acting: 4.5/ Directing: 4/ Visuals: 3.5
OVERALL: 4 Nerdskulls
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