Movie Review: The Judge (2014)

Posted: June 9, 2015 in Drama
Tags: ,

The Judge

Hotshot Chicago defense lawyer Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr) finds out his mother has died and goes back home to Indiana to pay his last respects.  While in Indiana, Hank’s father, Judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall) runs over Mark Blackwell (Mark Kiely) with his car. Blackwell had received a light sentence from Judge Palmer  and went on to kill his girlfriend after getting out of jail.  Did the judge kill Blackwell by accident? Or did he kill him to right his own judicial wrong?  Will Joseph Palmer let Hank defend him after years of estrangement if a case proceeds against the judge?

The Judge begins just like This is Where I Leave You, The death of a parent,  a cheating wife, and family problems land the main character back in the bosom of his dysfunctional family.  There are many contrived parts of this movie all created to garner sympathy for the Hank Palmer character, his wife cheats on him, his mother dies, his father treats him like dirt, one brother is slow  like Raymond in Rain Man, the other brother had a promising baseball career, but for an accident.  What passes for comedy relief is just juvenile, including vomiting, and an icky romantic entanglement. There’s a big trial of course and the verdict should have been the ending, but the movie goes on for another 10-15 minutes and the ending resolves nothing.  Is it a family therapy session, or a courtroom drama?  It’s both, and neither is very satisfying.

This is a great cast, but Robert Downey is playing the same snarky Tony Stark type character that he plays in the Iron Man and Avengers films, and whereas the character works once, for Tony Stark, Downey Jr. goes to the well once too often and falls flat. Does anyone believe for a second that Downey Jr’s character was born in Indiana?  Not for a second, and that is part of the problem.  Robert Duvall is essentially playing a character he played in The Great Santini, tough as nails father barking out orders to his children, except The Great Santini is a much better movie. Billy Bob Thornton plays an evil prosecutor, who for some reason, unbeknownst to anyone, wants to bring down the judge.  Thornton tries to play the character low key, but his performance ends up being uninteresting.  Vera Farminga is stuck being Downey Jr’s girlfriend with nothing better to do than fawn all over him or fight with him.

The movie is long, and the pacing is slow, and the director is mostly known for inane comedies, which explains the idiotic comedy relief, but not the rest of the formulaic plot.  He could hardly give direction to the likes of Downey and Duval, but he could have lopped off 15 minutes at least from the running time of this engorged drama.

The Judge:  Guilty…of bad filmmaking.

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