Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr., Iron Man), is a cocky hot shot attorney who goes back home to Indiana to attend his mother’s funeral. While there, his father, a respected judge, is arrested in connection with a hit and run that resulted in the death of one man. Despite the very broken relationship between the two, Hank extends his stay in order to defend his father.
The Judge is the familiar tale of a strained relationship between a stern dad and his rebellious son. But because of a fantastic cast of actors, and writing that takes this recognizable theme and gives it a fresh new feel, the result is something that is far more than just a movie about a grown man with daddy issues.
Although the trial of Judge Powell is the focus of all the advertising for the film, things aren’t that simple in Carlinville Indiana. Duvall (The Godfather) is a respected judge, loved by most everyone in town. To his family however, he is an angry, cold, and demanding father that seems to resent the very air that his children breathe. The inter-personal relationships of the family is the true centerpiece of The Judge.
Duvall and Downey are fabuloso in the roles of Joseph and Hank Palmer. As an actor, Duvall can do almost no wrong, (Just forget Seven Days in Utopia, even a man as sharp as Duvall can make a mistake now and again). The Judge is a complex man, and Duvall’s portrayal is spot on. On the surface he’s a tough and emotionless father, who believes that constantly brow beating his sons will make men out of them. But there’s more to him than just that. The Judge does love his family immensely, he just sucks at showing it. The trial is pivotal in bringing to the surface many unresolved feelings in both he and Hank. One of my favorite moments in the film is the scene when Hank questions a decision the Judge made when he was 17. For Hank, it led to the final breaking point in their relationship. But for the Judge it was a decision he made not out of spite, but out of concern and love for his son’s future.
What can you say about Robert Downey Jr.? He’s one of those people whose acting is so effortless, that it’s easy to overlook just how good he really is. Anyone who can stand toe to toe with a heavyweight like Duvall, has got some acting chops. Yes his character seems like the usual smart ass, sarcastic kind of role that we’ve come accustomed to seeing Downey in. But he makes Hank more than just a guy deflecting his hurt with a series of one liners. There is a depth to his portrayal that makes you forget you’re even watching RDJ. He balances the need to protect himself emotionally, with the desire for his father’s love. Duvall and Downey are dynamic on screen together, and for every second you believe that they are indeed father and son.
These two very talented actors are joined by an equally talented supporting cast that includes Vincent D’Onofrio (Law & Order: Criminal Intent), as Hanks older brother Glen. A former baseball star whose career was cut short after a car accident. D’Onofrio is wonderful as the slightly awkward brother who tries to keep the peace, while at the same time trying to reconcile his own differences with Hank.
Jeremy Strong (Zero Dark Thirty) is Hank and Glen’s mentally challenged little brother Dale. He expresses himself best through the family films he makes, as he hides himself behind his camera. Strong’s wonderful as a man whose greatest wish is to see his family resolve their disputes. Honorable mention goes to Dax Shepard (Parenthood) as C.P. Kennedy, the hapless attorney that Duvall hires to defend him in his murder trial. And Vera Farmiga (The Conjuring) who plays Hank’s old high school flame Samantha. These two round out a superb cast of actors, who gave their all in this surprisingly wonderful film.
The Judge Blu-ray is a 2.40:1 1080p release from Warner Brothers. The colors are rich and warm, showing in sharp detail the picturesque Indiana countryside. The DTS 5.1 Master Audio is superb. Giving us dialogue that is easy to hear, accompanied by a beautiful soundtrack that doesn’t intrude upon the conversations between the characters. Extras include a fantastic roundtable style behind the scenes that features the film’s stars and director David Dobkin (Wedding Crashers). A funny cast interview section with Dax Shepard acting as the world’s worst interviewer. Also included are audio commentaries, and deleted scenes, with and without the director’s commentary. I recommend watching with the director’s explanations, you will find out some fascinating details in the making of The Judge, and in making movies in general.
Writer/director David Dobkin , and his team of co-writers Nick Schenk Grand Torino, and Bill Dubuque, deliver the goods here. They could’ve easily handed us a sappy drama, hitting all the same syrupy chords that movies of this type often do. Instead, we get the intensity of a murder trial, set against the backdrop of a family almost broken beyond repair.
This judge says The Judge is not guilty.
The Judge (Blu-ray) 2015, Fox, 141 minutes, R (2015)
VIDEO: 2.40:1, 1080p AUDIO: DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spanish)
SUBTITLES: English SDH, French, Spanish EXTRAS: Commentary, Interviews, Featurette, Deleted Scenes ACCOMPLICES: IMDB