The Judge (David Dobkin, 2014)
YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH! Oh wait, wrong movie. But the trailer still promised us a COURTROOM SHOWDOWN and it delivered. The critics have been a little harsh on The Judge, perhaps unfairly. It was a decent film, though it’s definitely not going to be part of the Oscar race. The Academy likes schmaltz, but you’ve got to be a little more subtle than this.
Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr., glorious as usual) is a wanker defence lawyer (or some might just say: a defence lawyer) estranged from his father, Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall) a.k.a.THE JUDGE. When Hank travels to his old home town for his mother’s funeral, the animosity between him and his father is clear. Days later, The Judge is charged with the murder of a former defendant whose case he presided over twenty years earlier. Though he initially refuses Hank’s help, instead opting for a local attorney (Dax Shepard) who doesn’t quite have the smarts for the case, Hank insists on representing his father.
Family is the big focus here, with the dysfunctional father-son relationship at the forefront, with interweaving themes of loss, forgiveness, and respect. It is an almost all-male affair, with brothers Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio) and Dale (Jeremy Strong) making up the remaining family unit. Hank also has a daughter of his own, Lauren (Emma Tremblay), though his marriage hasn’t quite worked out. The strained relationship between Hank and his father does really tug at the heartstrings, and I kept wishing that they’d JUST HUG ALREADY. Ain’t nobody got time for bitterness and resentment. Just hug it out fellas!
Director David Dobkin has previously only done buddy comedies (Wedding Crashers, The Change-Up, Fred Claus) so The Judge is a clear shift in tone. It has its comic touches, mainly courtesy of Robert Downey Jr’s delivery. The Judge is your typical courtroom drama – it isn’t anything particularly new and it all feels so overly American, in its small town antique stores and its whole patriotic stance on the law. Love interest, Samantha (Vera Farmiga) owns a bar/diner of course, and they eat some apple pie there for good measure.
It’s a long film at 141 minutes, but it doesn’t drag too much. The narrative is a bit formulaic, though I am relieved they didn’t take the “He’s just covering for his disabled son” line or any such twists. Though it bordered on schmaltzy, many aspects of The Judge felt very real, and it is difficult to be left untouched by this one. With the hot Oscar contenders starting to be released, The Judge shouldn’t be top of your list, but it was still worth the price of admission. Judge for yourselves.