The Judge

Drama can be very simple. Just take some interesting characters, drop them into a situation, and have them resolve it (or not). You don’t need innovative plot structures, fancy special effects, or obscure arty acting styles. Humans will never get tired of watching humans interact, especially if they identify with them.
In The Judge, high powered Chicago lawyer, Hank Palmer, played by Robert Downey Jr., returns to the small Indiana town where he grew up to help out in a family crises. His father Joseph, played by Robert Duvall, has been the town’s judge for forty-two years and has been arrested for murder. The victim was a man who came before Joseph and was given a light sentence, even though his guilt was obvious, he then drowned his girlfriend and Joseph sent him away for a long time. He served his sentence and was out again. Joseph has always considered it to be his greatest mistake. So when he hits the man with his car, everybody assumes it was on purpose.
Now, Hank has to defend his father, with whom he is estranged, and deal with the family he left behind.
The acting, of course, is terrific even if the two Roberts aren’t really stretching that much. Vincent D’Onofrio gives a good performance as Glen, Hank’s ex-jock older brother who missed out on a baseball career because he hurt his hand in a car accident where Hank was at the wheel. Vera Farmiga is tough and sexy as Hank’s old girlfriend, Samantha Powell.
The story, by director David Dobkin and Nick Schenk who wrote the screenplay with Bill Dubuque, has a few subplots which detract from the main story, add to the length of the film and in the end don’t really make sense. But for the most part the pace remains brisk and you’re never bored.
I suppose in this day and age something like The Judge is always going to be thought of as a high prestige drama. Anytime Robert Duvall does a film, he gets mentioned in connection with the Oscars, and rightfully so. But in this case I don’t think that film around him is all that great. It’s enjoyable in many ways but in the end, too few risks were taken and the twists they introduced were too predictable and too easy.
If you really want to see it, you should wait for the DVD.


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October 2014
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