Argumentative August Supplement #2 – The Judge (2014)
Rob and I would like to once again welcome you to another review for our Argumentative August Blogathon. This next film, one of the supplement reviews, The Judge is being reviewed by S. G. Liput. Let’s see what he thought of this movie…
The Judge (2014)
Hank Palmer didn’t want to represent his dad, the Judge,
A man devoid of sympathy, a rock that wouldn’t budge.
With pain as fresh as years ago, they craved their separate ways,
But when a charge of murder strikes, reluctantly Hank stays.
As past mistakes converge with new and justice vies with right,
A family quick to come apart grows closer in their plight.
Rating: R (solely for language)
Since I reviewed the oldest film on Argumentative August’s list, I thought I should do the most recent as well. The Judge brings together two phenomenal actors and provides them with the kind of meaty roles that any actor would desire, roles that once again prove them as the professionals they are.
Robert Downey, Jr., plays his typical hotshot self at first as Hank Palmer, known for taking on guilty clients and suspending his conscience accordingly. His marriage is falling apart, and his relationship with his father is practically nonexistent, for reasons yet to be revealed. When he’s called down to little Carlinville, Indiana, his judge father Joseph Palmer (Oscar-nominated Robert Duvall) becomes the prime suspect in a hit-and-run involving a past mistake of his. From this basic foundation, the story builds on their strained relationship with past regrets and current hostility.
While the main conflict revolves around the courtroom battle, the film puts equal focus on Hank and Joseph’s turbulent alliance. Neither really wants to be around the other, but both realize that Hank is his father’s best chance for staying out of jail and not being massacred by the prosecuting attorney (Billy Bob Thornton). While we sympathize with Hank to some extent, he confirms himself as a jerk several times, just as the Judge proves himself an irritable codger with little regard for others’ opinions. Yet despite their personal foibles, their motivations remain understandable and mostly sympathetic throughout, and small moments of warmth, such as with Hank’s daughter Lauren, reveal an affectionate side neither has felt for years. Balanced with their key father-son bond are humorous and serious side notes with Hank’s brothers (Vincent D’Onofrio and Jeremy Strong) and Hank’s reconnecting with an old flame (Vera Farmiga), who has a secret of her own. Most of these interactions reinforce the theme of Hank returning home after his long city-dwelling absence, and though he at first derides Carlinville for never changing, he begins to warm up to his former hometown.
Of course, the court battle takes precedence toward the end, and while the father-son catharsis sometimes unrealistically invades the courtroom, the debate over Joseph’s guilt takes center stage and becomes a major pitfall in their healing bond and family life. As a judge, Joseph possesses a strong sense of duty, honesty, and justice, but health issues and personal uncertainty throw the full story into question. This kept me guessing as to what the characters did and would do, a quality that every courtroom drama strives for.
I should mention that, like Elizabethtown and Prometheus, the critics were inexplicably unkind to this movie, decrying it as “formulaic” and “cloying.” Perhaps they’ve been jaded by watching too many similar movies, but I completely disagree. It’s easy to write The Judge off as some combination of Doc Hollywoodand On Golden Pond, and to view any movie about a difficult parent-child relationship that is inevitably resolved as “formulaic.” What matters is how it is resolved and what happens along the way; The Judge has enough twists to still be exceptional, and its stellar performances only deepen its appeal. (Being an admirer of RDJ’s acting ability and success, my VC enjoyed the film even more.) There’s plenty of emotional drama and sentiment, and I’m sorry that many felt they were forced or designed solely as Oscar bait. I found the reconciliation touching and believable, the health issues realistically portrayed (based on personal experience), and the emotions anything but phony. The Judge may very well be Oscar bait, but when it deserves accolades, what’s so wrong about that?
Best line: (prospective juror, after Hank asks for what’s on the jury’s bumper stickers) “’Wife and dog missing. Reward for dog.’”
© 2015 S. G. Liput