release date: 10 October 2014
run time: 141 mins
director: David Dobkin
starring: Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Billy Bob Thornton, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong, Dax Shepard, Leighton Meester, Ken Howard, Emma Tremblay, Balthazar Getty, David Krumholtz, Grace Zabriskie, Denis O’Hare, Sarah Lancaster
movie summary: In the beautiful city of Chicago there is a hot-shot lawyer who never loses. His knowledge of the law is extraordinary and his skills in the court room can get any guilty person off the hook. Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) has everything you could want in life, an amazing job, beautiful young wife, nice cars, and a little girl he adores more than anything, except his career. His life wasn’t always this great, he had to work his ass in school to avoid ever returning to his small hometown in Indiana. Back in that small town are his brothers Glen Palmer (Vincent D’Onofrio) and Dale (Jeremy Strong), along with the town judge, his dad Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall). Joe Palmer has been the law and order in the town and county for over 40 years, before wife passes away to cancer and things spiral out of control.
Hank is about to get a client off some serious charges when the call comes in. He dreads going back home more than anything else in the world. He boards a plane, rents a car, and drives hours to get back home to see nothing has changed. Joe is hosting a gathering at his house and is shocked to see Hank. The two haven’t seen eye to eye since he was a teenager and there’s an awkward silence when the two shake hands and then quickly look the other way. After the funeral Hank leaves on the first plane out-of-town, despite his brothers best efforts to get him to stay. Joe and Hank simply can’t stand to share the same house for anymore time without the desire to kill one another. Hank leaves town as soon as possible, only to get a call when he sits down in his first class seat, from his brother Glen and it concerns their dad.
Frustrated that he has to go back and clean up the mess, Hank heads over to the police station to find out his dad is being booked for vehicular manslaughter, fourth degree. Joe decides to frustrate Hank even more by refusing his help and go with the public defendant C.P. Kennedy (Dax Shepard). C.P. is an antiques dealer by day and a sub par lawyer by night. He’s so uncoordinated that he couldn’t win the easiest case possible. Hank sits in the shadow and bites his tongue until he can’t take anymore and gives everyone a piece of his mind. During the preliminary hearings, Dwight Dickham (Billy Bob Thornton) requests the trail be held in Joe’s hometown in front of everyone he knows. He pushes for the case to go to trail and thanks to C.P.’s poor execution, Joe has to shallow his pride and ask for Hank’s advice.
The whole purpose of this trip was to say good-bye to his mother, but now Hank has to step up his game more than ever because he’s defending his father on murder charges. He begins to build his case with the help of his dad and C.P. while his brothers watch on the sidelines as their middle brother tries to save the family. Joe struggles to remember the events and has a secret that could bring down the whole case. He refuses to talk about it because not only will it tarnish his legacy but will land in the state prison. Hank has to figure out how to handle such delicate information, protect his father, win the case, save the day, all while dreading his time in his home town. When Joe takes the stand, he swears to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, but it may not be enough to save him or Hank from the situation they find themselves in.
my thoughts: If you took the time to watch the trailer for The Judge when it came out, you probably got excited like me about the thought of power houses like Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall joining up together. Some of you probably groaned at the thought of another courtroom movie but think back to My Cousin Vinny, A Few Good Man, Rules of Engagement, and Runaway Jury. All four of those movies are great for various reasons with a wide variety of characters and storylines. When you go into The Judge you may think you know the plot and the characters but there are actually a few surprises in there. The story is pretty serious when it concerns the law, mental health, and family drama, even though Downey Jr. is always on the ball with his usual wise ass comments that will make you laugh.
The story focuses on two people, Downey Jr.’s character Hank and Duvall’s Joe. Like I have mentioned before in my Iron Man reviews, there’s not an actor in the business who could pull off such a playboy superhero, kinda like no one else could be the cocky Hank Palmer but Downey Jr. He just has the look, he wears the best suits, always has sunglasses on, drives nice cars, and doesn’t really care anyone but himself. It’s been the story of his life and it has affected everyone around him. He’s never had a gut check moment until he’s in a courtroom defending his legendary father. His marriage is over, he rarely sees his daughter, and carries a lot of baggage both from home and Chicago. Amazingly Hank doesn’t have any addiction issues to cloud his judgement but when he returns home he must face all the skeletons in his closet from his reckless childhood. There’s plenty of reasons why Joe never talks to him and despite all the years of not talking to each other, the opportunity presents itself to bury the hatchet of all past doings. His stubborn attitude and “I’m better than you” mentality is his strongest characteristic but all of that will change when family secrets get out and he realizes that a small town lifestyle is where he who he really is.
Duvall’s character is a tough as nails guy who refuses to do or say anything that could ruin a repetition he has spent a lifetime building. In his old age and declining health, he acts more stubborn than any of his kids and refuses to face the jury. The whole movie Joe is an emotional wreck from losing his wife of 50 years and dealing with Hank who he hates more than the criminals he puts away every day. He has held a grudge against his middle son for ruining so many things growing up, he thinks he’s the better man for ignoring his son and looking the other way. Hank used that treatment as motivation to become the best lawyer ever, graduating first in his class. Joe’s character, facing life in prison, still refuses to cave in to the mounting pressure of the case and takes up drinking to get through these tough times. His health is the biggest question he’ll ever have to face in life and on the stand, but that secret is more important than his freedom and the legacy he so deeply cherishes. That secret may be the downfall of his life but it may also be his saving grace.
The supporting cast is excellent in their roles, including Vera Farmiga, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Jeremy Strong. Even Dax Shepard puts in a solid effort with limited time. Everyone plays a role that you would expect in a movie based in a small town. There’s the older brother who never went anywhere and still wonders what could have been. There’s the ex-girlfriend who never stopped loving the one who ran away, but has managed to succeed in the town by buying a few businesses. There’s also the younger brother who has never lived on his own and needs his father to take care of him. Everyone comes together to have an impact on the bigger story of the movie, the story of a man rediscovering his roots and accepting where his real home is.
my final thoughts: I’ve had a whole day to rethink The Judge. It was a very good movie that may get some award recognition but will not win best picture. It is really long at 2:22 and could have cut out a few parts to trim the time. I’ve heard some people cried during the movie and the ending, but if you didn’t see the ending coming then you weren’t really paying attention. You won’t be disappointed with the performances of Downey Jr. and Duvall, so I’d recommend you find time to catch The Judge someday.
my star rating: 6 out 10
rottentomatoes.com: 47% out 100%
rogerebert.com: 2.5 out 4