When charismatic lawyer Hank Palmer learns of his mother’s passing, he finds himself back in the town in which he grew up. Hank seems haunted by the town’s simplistic nature and its lack of change. He has happy memories of this place but they are overshadowed by his broken relationship with his father. Hank has gone to great lengths to become a new man, far away from his home town. What Hank plans to be a brief visit to attend his mother’s funeral is quickly extended when his father is accused of hitting and killing a man with his car. From here on in The Judge quickly becomes a lengthy and over-stretched courtroom drama. As father and son battle with their own troubled history and relationship they must also take on the prosecution in an attempt to rescue an elderly man from an undignified ending behind bars. Hank’s father, Joseph, is one of the town’s most respected and longest-serving court judges. His position in society disrupts the case and his relationship with his son. What begins as a journey towards justice quickly becomes a story of redemption between family. The Judge is a clichéd and self-indulgent movie that believes itself to be a lot more profound than it actually is. It should have been a 100 minute movie at best, but instead bloats over a tedious 140 minutes.
Hank is portrayed by Robert Downey Jr. who captures the essence of yet another rich and arrogant brat. Joseph, in all his fearlessness and frailty, is brought to life by the astounding Robert Duvall. Both actors give solid performances but are fighting a losing battle against a transparent script and story. The film is at its best when both men collide in scenes of erupting anger and bitterness. They manages to make their characters’ tumultuous relationship painfully convincing amidst a wreck of insincere plot devices, predictable narrative movements and dull and cheesy revelations. Despite all of its faults I was not angered or irritated by the film’s predictability or patronising nature. I found myself close to tears on several occasions despite the film’s many inadequacies. The performances can not be praised enough. If it was not for Duvall and Downey Jr. I would have either fallen asleep or grown agitated by The Judge and its lack of believability, but it was surprisingly easy to remain engaged despite having very little respect for the plot and pacing. As the court case comes to an end so does the film. As the movie progresses, Joseph’s age begins to show. He becomes more helpless and vulnerable and Duvall expertly grasps both Joseph’s ferocity and feebleness. Somewhere underneath all of the film’s absurdities and nonsense is a heartbreaking study of family, fathers and forgiveness. The biggest problem with The Judge is that all its redeeming qualities are buried just a little too deep beneath a mighty mound of silliness.
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