Friday, October 17, 2014

The Judge: Movie Review

A stoic drama about fathers, sons and murder.

Robert Duvall is the titular judge. He’s a hardened man who has worked 42 years as a judge in the small town of Carlinville, Indiana. Robert Downey Jr. plays the cynical and successful lawyer son who left for the big city of Chicago, Illinois. The Judge focuses on their relationship when the prodigal son returns home for the funeral of his mother. The movie then steps up its game when it also becomes a murder mystery. 2014

Directed by: David Dobkin

Screenplay by: Nick Schenk, Bill Dubuque

Starring: Robert Duvall, Robert Downey Jr.

Their relationship is icy to say the least. It’s such a staple of the genre that I wasn’t even expecting the film to give a reason for their hostility. Quite simply, they both hate each other because they both feel that they were rejected by the other. As the film advances, actual instances from his childhood are revealed. Suprisingly, given the marketing focusing entirely on Downey and Duvall, Hank Palmer also has two brothers. Fitting right in line with the dysfunctional family dramedy, older brother Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio) is the married, hard-working, successful and stable son who stayed in town and got a job. Youngest brother Dale (Jeremy Strong) is the slightly-off, not-successful son who will always be seen as a child in the eyes of his father. Hank (Downey Jr.) is the middle brother; the one that found his own path in life.

We first meet Hank in Chicago. He’s a lawyer who has no problem representing only guilty clients (since the innocent ones can’t afford him), he’s getting divorced from his wife and he has a 7-year-old daughter whom he hasn’t always been there for. When the film moves to Carlinville, it goes for some gorgeous shots of the small Midwestern town and the interesting family dynamics begin.

D’Onofrio gives a very strong performance of the son who gets along with dad but has his own problems with brother Hank, but he also always wants to do what is best for the family. The heart of the film lies with Duvall. In an incredibly layered and nuanced performance, he plays a man so accustomed to having final say that he’s having a difficult time accepting that his wife is dead, he himself is dying, his judgement has been called into question, and he’s going to have to rely on his no-good son, who of course is actually quite competent.

The murder mystery storyline isn’t so much a mystery, but an interesting plot which helps propel the rather staid family drama moving forward. It does move slowly, slower than it should since it seems 20 minutes could have been easily shaved from its 2 hours and 20 minutes run-time. The lack of comedy is also quite noticeable when the film drags more than it should. The few lines of humour are in the trailer and given Robert Downey Jr.’s immeasurable talent for wry and straight comedic line delivery, there should have been more. Those are the only prominent areas of failure for the stoic drama which otherwise delivers with good characters, great acting, interesting plot and a compassionate story.

Similar Titles:

Gone Girl (2014) - Implores you to not take appearances at face value as the characters cut a dark tale of marriage.

The Place Beyond the Pines (2012) - A story of trashy criminals and dirty cops evolving into one about fathers and sons and life.