This is a movie that the average movie-goer will enjoy more than the critics. Most of the reviews for The Judge say that the movie is riddled with clichés and that the characters were weak. The reality is, if you have/had a father, you will find this movie moving and will likely be brought to tears on more than one occasion. Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall play father and son in this courtroom drama that takes place in a small Indiana town that, in the words of Robert Downey Jr.’s character Henry “Hank” Palmer, everyone “just wants to leave”. Upon hearing that his mother passed away, Hank, a big-shot defence attorney in the city, makes the trip to his home town where he must face “The Judge”, his father Joe Palmer. It is obvious before they even meet face to face that their relationship is strained, to say the least. When The Judge is suddenly faced with a manslaughter charge in the wake of his wife’s funeral, Hank is forced to stick around and deal with the siltation, much to his father’s dismay. The two characters clash all the way down to their basic ideals, Judge Joe Palmer has been the town judge for over 40 years and firmly believes in justice and the law’s part in it, while Hank operates under a somewhat different principle, summed up in this perfect line: “Innocent people can’t afford me.”
The Judge has been labelled as a courtroom drama but most of the movie actually takes place outside of the courthouse and deals with the intense family dynamic and Hank trying to cope with his old demons rather than the trial itself. The acting is superb, with a great supporting cast that includes Vera Farmiga and Billy Bob Thornton, and there are just enough quick-witted one-liners to lighten up the mood when things get a little dark. And they definitely do. You’ll find yourself more interested in the family and how they are going to get through it, than finding out the details about the hit-and-run that started the whole thing.
Watching this movie, it is hard to believe it is directed by the same person who brought audiences Wedding Crashers and The Change-Up. Upon further inspection, it appears that the screenplay was written by Nick Shenk, who also wrote Gran Torino. Suddenly things seem to make a little more sense. The Judge has a hefty runtime of 2 hours and 20 minutes which some critics have complained about, but there is enough suspense (in terms of the trial), unanswered questions (in terms of the relationships), and impending re-conciliations to retain the audience’s interest. The argument that the movie is “something we’ve all seen before” sounds like its coming from all the people who thought Avatar was “just a Pocahontas rip-off”. Sure, there is a formula (there usually is), but that doesn’t mean that the movie isn’t worth watching, because it certainly is worth it.
The best advice is to stop reading reviews and just go see it for yourself. You’ll laugh, you’ll probably cry, and at the end you’ll be happy you saw it.