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Three Views: The Judge

October 10, 2014

The Judge Poster

The Judge – A Warner Bros. Release

Release Date: October 10th, 2014
Rated 14A for coarse language
Running Time: 141 minutes

David Dobkin (director)

Nick Schenk (screenplay)
Bill Dubuque (screenplay)

Thomas Newman (music)

Robert Downey Jr. as Hank Palmer
Robert Duvall as Joseph Palmer
Vera Farmiga as Samantha Powell
Billy Bob Thornton as Dwight Dickham
Vincent D’Onofrio as Glen Palmer
Jeremy Strong as Dale Palmer
Dax Shepard as C.P. Kennedy
Leighton Meester as Carla Powell
Ken Howard as Judge Warren
Emma Tremblay as Lauren Palmer

The Judge

Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) and Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall) in The Judge.

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The Judge Review By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

After being chosen as the opening night selection at TIFF, The Judge is being released in the middle of awards season, and this well made if overstuffed film can’t quite live to these lofty expectations.  But the excellent performances of legendary actors Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall, as a father and son with painful memories struggling to forgive each other and confront their difficult past, are enough to make this lengthy legal drama worth seeing.

When his mother passes away, hotshot Chicago lawyer Hank Palmer (Robert Downy Jr.) returns to his hometown in Indiana, where him and his brothers (Vincent D’Onofrio and Jeremy Strong) where raised under the iron fist of their father, esteemed local judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall).  But when blood is found on the front of Joseph’s car, and a man that he sentenced over twenty years ago is found dead on the side of the road, a court case mounts questioning whether this was murder or manslaughter.  A bumbling local lawyer (Dax Shepard) is hired, but Hank ends up having to defend his father against the ruthless prosecutor (Billy Bob Thornton).

The film feels overly long at 140 minutes, and at times there is simply too much here, with some of the characters and subplots seeming clichéd.  There is a presumably autistic brother, a high school girlfriend (Vera Farmiga) still bitter from a bad breakup, a pending divorce and serious illness to contend with among other things, which all leads to heightened histrionics between the family.  It’s not that none of these elements work, because some of them are affective and even touching, just that they often distract from the tight two person drama at hand.

Although there are a few tonally off moments, like the misjudged opening scene where Hank pees on a rival lawyer, former comedy director David Dobkin does a fine job helming his first drama and delivers some very well staged sequences.  But it’s ultimately the excellent work of Robert Duvall and Robert Downey Jr. that is the glue holding The Judge together, and this is a fine opportunity to watch these two master actors go head to head.  Backed up by a rock solid supporting cast, the uniformly strong performances are reason enough to make the film worth your time.

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The Judge Review By Erin V.

★★★ (out of 4)

The opening night film at TIFF last month, The Judge stars Robert Downey Jr. as Hank Palmer, a top-class lawyer, who goes back to his childhood town of Carlinville, Indiana, for his mother’s funeral.  While he’s there, his estranged father and local judge in the town (Robert Duvall), is arrested for a hit-and-run, and Hank has to stay behind to defend him.

Dealing with issues he tried to run from in the past, including the strained relationship with his father, as well as facing his two brothers after years of being away makes Hank wonder why he is even doing this.  But as the film goes on, we see that he cares enough about his family to want to win this case, even if at times it seems like his father is fighting him every step of the way.

There is a lot going on in this movie.  Ex-girlfriends, divorce, estranged parents, grief, a brother with a disability, and so on and so on.  At times, it seems like a little too much, and is clearly a contributor to the film’s slightly excessive two hour, twenty minute running length.  But overall, the strong performances by Downey Jr. and Duvall make up for it enough for this to be a watchable – if at times slightly melodramatic – film that centres around the relationship between a father and son.

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The Judge Review By Tony

★★★★ (out of 4)

The Judge is the latest among recent films such as August: Osage County and This Is Where I Leave You, featuring a dysfunctional family reunited in their home town for a parent’s funeral.

Small town Indiana Judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall) has just lost his wife of fifty years. His son Hank (Robert Downey Jr.), an arrogant Chicago defence lawyer for unsavoury clients estranged from his tough love father since childhood, returns reluctantly to a cool welcome from the Judge. Hank has two brothers back home: Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio), a local merchant, and Dale (Jeremy Strong), who is developmentally challenged with a special interest in 8 mm home movies. Hank also meets up with his high school sweetheart Sam (Vera Farmiga).

Once his mother is in the ground, Hank can’t get out of town fast enough, but when his father is charged with murder he has to come back to defend him. A vile local man recently released after a twenty year murder sentence imposed by the Judge was found run down by his car. At first, his father refuses Hank’s help, but when a local lawyer (Dax Shepard) is clearly outclassed by the city prosecutor Dwight Dickham (Billy Bob Thornton), who has taken the case as a grudge match against his former rival, Hank is taken on for the fight which will change their lives forever.

Co-written (with Nick Schenk and Bill Dubuque) and directed by David Dobkin, The Judge is a strong story delivered by an excellent cast. Every element, from the fine production shot by Spielberg’s cinematographer Janusz Kaminski to the Thomas Newman score, is first rate, with fine details and maturity that an intelligent audience will appreciate.

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Consensus: Although some will find the film overlong and the story somewhat clichéd, The Judge is a classically made legal drama that features excellent performances from Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall, as well as a strong supporting cast. ★★★¼ (out of 4)

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