The Judge

A successful lawyer returns to his hometown for his mother's funeral only to discover that his estranged father, the town's judge, is suspected of murder.


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  • ★★★½ review by Caty Alexandre on Letterboxd

    After a long time, finally we can see the great Robert Downey Jr. do something different than the superhero Iron Man, or even the very intelligent but insane Sherlock Holmes. Nothing against, as the success of these two blockbusters owes much to his talent and what he gives to his characters. In The Judge we can see him doing a deeper and more serious role, never losing his ironic side and that funny that always makes us laugh whenever it is necessary. Here plays a character that can be perfectly adapted to real life and I confess that I've been missing to see him again in a different register.

    The Judge is divided between the courtrooms and the family drama of a family marked by problems from the past that are still unresolved. Attorney Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) is forced to return to his hometwon in Indiana, 20 years later, for the funeral of his mother. Hank always had problems with his father (Robert Duvall), a very well respected judge in the city, and during his short stay his father is considered the main suspect of an homicide. Hank is forced to help his father to find out the truth and eventually re-connects with his brothers and even with some old acquaintances of the small town.

    The film is not simply a story about courts, laws or criminal justice, but a family drama where the characters are going to rediscover themselves, learn how to forgive and respect each other. The emotional side of the story is more important than everything else, and despite the numerous clichés that the film may have, they result in a perfect way to what the film is supposed to give us and it never disappoints.

    It is certainly a film of great performances! The chemistry between Downey Jr. and Duvall is really great and all their scenes together are very intense. The entire supporting cast does a very good work, but is mostly Downey Jr. and Duvall what make The Judge to be not just a drama of conflict between father and son, but a real portrait of many families, sincere and honest that has a slightly different ending than we are expecting.

  • ★★★½ review by Travis Lytle on Letterboxd

    David Dobkin's "The Judge" never quite makes up its mind regarding what it wants to be. Treading back and forth between family drama, comedy, and exhibition of Robert Downey, Jr. spouting pithy legal oaths, the film feels like a hodge podge of tones and plot elements. Though this may distract from a uniform sensibility, the drama still is able to compel and engage. It is not a perfect film, but, thanks to its stellar cast and engrossing narrative, "The Judge" manages to entertain.

    Downey plays a lawyer who, after returning to his Midwest hometown for his mother's funeral, gets tangled up in a legal case involving his hard-nosed father. It is the kind of you-can't-go-home-again narrative that serves as the story foundation for countless films, but it is handled competently here. The story has plenty of past shadows and character moments to fill its script, and its occasionally-light tone imbues the narrative with an interesting energy when it is not undercutting the film's core conflicts.

    The film's look is suitably accomplished, and mixed compositions and a rich aesthetic give the film a stand-out visual energy. Downey is his now-typical magnetic self, and Robet Duvall adds gravitas as the titular judge. Vincent D'Onofrio, Vera Farmiga, Jeremy Strong, and Dax Shepard add color in supporting roles.

    "The Judge" feels tonally disjointed throughout, but it shows moments of greatness and winds up being a mostly satisfying film. Its cast is strong, its themes are universal, and its production is polished. Dobkin shows strengths beyond his standard comic films and is able to generate an appealing piece of work.

  • ★★★½ review by TajLV on Letterboxd

    This movie surprised me in more than a few ways, all of them good.

    First, there's Robert Duvall playing the titular role as small-town Indiana Judge Joseph Palmer. It has been 16 long years since the once-renowned A-lister received a major award nomination for his film work, and here Duvall proves that he can still be a force on the big screen, well deserving of his spot on the 2015 Oscar shortlist for Best Supporting Actor.

    Second, director David Dobkin really flipped the script this time, breaking away from his usual lightweight comedy fare *"Wedding Crashers," "The Change-Up," etc.). He delivers a meaty drama, with an intricate family dynamic deserving not only of our attention but also our empathy and even a tear or two.

    Third, Southern Indiana never looked so good ... so lushly green and clean and livable. I grew up there in the corn belt, and this really brought back memories of lake fishing with my dad, playing in the backyard with my brother, and mugging it up for the camera with my mom.

    Because it is basically the story of a murder trial, the format is pretty predictable: introduce all the key characters, establish the crime, arrest the suspect, present all the arguments on both sides, render a verdict and mete out justice. But there are plenty of side stories to keep things interesting, including a car accident that ruins the baseball career of the Judge's eldest son Glen (Vincent D'Onofrio), the special needs of his mentally challenged youngest son Dale (Jeremy Strong), and the return home of middle son Hank (Robert Downey Jr.), who is now a successful Chicago defense attorney going through a messy divorce and parenting issues.

    Excellent support is provided by Vera Farmiga as Hank's old flame Samantha Powell, Leighton Meester as her bartender daughter Carla, Dax Shepard as gutless defense lawyer C.P. Kennedy and Billy Bob Thornton as the sly prosecutor Dwight Dickham. Also among the cast are Grace Zabriskie, Denis O'Hare and Ken Howard, to name a few standouts.

    Downey Jr., of course, gets most of the camera's attention, playing his familiar greater-than-thou self. When Sam calls him out for his "hyperverbal vocabulary-vomit thing," I really had to laugh. Yeah, that's RDJ, all right. But his adversarial chemistry with Duvall really works -- two strong personalities and I really enjoyed watching them joust.

  • ★★★½ review by Cogerson on Letterboxd

    Why I watched this one? The two Roberts.....Downey Jr. and Duvall.

    What is this one about? Big city lawyer (Downey Jr.) returns to his childhood home where his father (Duvall), the town's judge, is suspected of murder.

    My thoughts on this one. Duvall is excellent...and I am glad he picked up a Oscar nomination for this one. Downey is fun to watch as well. I watch many many movies.....based on the trailers.....I was treating this movie as mystery. I was trying to figure out who really killed the victim. I suspected every supporting character in the movie. Well it turns out that this movie is really just a family drama. The final courtroom scene seemed very unbelievable and was almost a let least for me. Final thought: Solid acting by the leads is not enough to overcome the pretty standard story.....and in the end this was just a little better than average movie.

    This is ranked 11th of 51 Downey, Jr. movies on my Robert Downey Jr. Cogerson Movie Score table.

    This is ranked 23rd of 72 Duvall movies on my Robert Duvall Cogerson Movie Score table.

  • ★★★½ review by bree1981 on Letterboxd

    It's been a while since I've seen a good courtroom drama and while this never quite never quite makes it into great territory it ticks enough boxes that I know it will be one I'll re-visit in the future,

    Robert Downey Jr. is on top form leading an all star cast as Hank Palmer, a arrogant big city defence attorney with a big house and successful career who has to return to his hometown when his Mum die's. While back home old skeletons from the past are dredged up but the dysfunctional Palmer family must soon band together when Hank's estranged father, the local judge is accused of murder.

    The film is really half courtroom drama and half family drama and both parts are well melded together, the family side of things can be quite moving while the courtroom side of things keeps you guessing as to the outcome. The film also features a surprising amount of humour and although you couldn't describe it as a comedy it had me laughing out loud on a good few occasions.

    The cast are also on great form and this looks like a real actors movie with both Downey Jr. and the legendary Robert Duvall, who plays Hank's father Joseph Palmer both given plenty of opportunities to shine, Hank has the biggest character arc as he is forced to re-evaluate his life but Duvall matches him all the way as the old school judge who struggles to show compassion or ask for help. Support comes from the always reliable likes of Billy Bob Thornton, Vera Farmiga, Vincent D'Onofrio and an underused Leighton Meester.

    Overall, this film is well worth checking out, the story, which really boils down to a fractured relationship between a father and son will reel you in, it features two fantastic central performances and although it may be too melodramatic for some I for one really enjoyed it.

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