SYNOPSIS: Robert Downey Jr is Hank Palmer, a hotshot defense lawyer. Who’s been estranged from his father Judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall) for years but is forced to see him when his mother passes away. Returning to his hometown of Carlinville, Indiana for the funeral Hank must confront the life he left behind—ex-girlfriend Samantha (Vera Farmiga), brothers Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio) and Dale (Jeremy Strong) and his cold-fish father. The quick in-and-out trip is extended, however, when the Judge is accused of murder and Hank becomes his lawyer.
Richard: 3 Stars
Mark: 4 Stars
Richard: Mark, The Judge feels like Oscar bait. It’s a long movie with a wide story arc that gives its leads ample opportunity to strut their stuff. Downey hands in a solid, if somewhat familiar performance while Duvall plays elder statesman, resurrecting the alpha male feel of The Great Santini. Both are used to good effect and the supporting cast keeps things humming along despite a story that pushes credulity to the limit. What’s your verdict? Were won over the performances despite plot holes so big not even Iron Man could fill them?
Mark: Richard, The Judge is a sprawling, square, old-fashioned movie and I loved it in spite of itself. It’s a pleasure to watch Downey act without a fifth of a billion bucks in CGI helping him out. The movie reminds us why we fell in love with him so long ago. His perfect wiseass line readings and adolescent smirk hide the softie underneath, and it’s great to watch the transition slowly unfold. As for Duvall, how can you go wrong? He’s not just an actor now, he’s everyone’s granddad. The acting in the movie is pretty flawless, and I’m including Vincent D’Onofrio and Vera Farmiga here as well.
RC: The acting is very good. It’s the story, or should I say stories that bogged me down. It’s the hardest working movie in show business. It’s a film that wants to check all the boxes. It’s a family drama! No! It’s a romance! Nope! It’s a courtroom thriller! It’s all those things, and, for me, less because it spreads the focus too thin by trying just a little too hard. Downey and Co. float above it all, however, touching down every now and again to introduce a new plot twist and deliver the occasional touching moment.
MB: You’re right; it’s all those things. And one more: It’s a John Mellencamp song. You see, he was born in a small town… Richard, let’s not forget the cliche of the big city slicker who finds out his roots are where his heart belongs. In spite of that, in spite of everything you so correctly enumerate, I still loved the movie. And although I had a pretty good idea how the thriller part was going to turn out, I was engaged to see how it would get there.
RC: Most of the silly stuff that bothered me comes in the form of clues Hank pieces together while forming the Judge’s defense and the trial itself. There will be no spoilers here, but suffice to say the whole thing hinges on a bit of information so implausible that it gives new meaning to the term suspension of disbelief. Trouble is, it didn’t have to be that way. There were any number of ways to establish the point in question (OK, HERE’S A MILD SPOILER ALERT: It involves chemotherapy and a cottage) without trying so hard, but that’s not the kind of film this is.
MB: But it is the kind of movie where the prosecuting attorney (Billy Bob Thornton) is given a Snidely Whiplash moustache just to make sure we all know he’s the bad guy. Doesn’t matter. Still loved the movie.