FlixChatter Review: The Judge (2014)

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It’s a film featuring Robert vs Robert. One is a hugely popular actor hitting a stratospheric rise in his Phase 2 (pardon the Marvel pun) of his career if you will, and the other a veteran actor known for his dramatic intensity. As with the case of Robert Downey Jr, I feel that ever since I saw him playTony Stark, I notice that essentially he plays a similar personality as that character in a lot of his other films. In this one, he plays a top notch defense attorney who’s got a reputation for representing guilty people with money. Hank Palmer is smart, wealthy, snarky, irreverent and a bit of a womanizer. Sounds familiar? 

The story pretty much starts after his mother dies suddenly and he has to return home to a small Midwestern town for her funeral. It’s apparent Hank hasn’t been home in a while and thus made him sort of an outsider with his own family, especially his dad, Judge Joseph Palmer, played by Robert Duvall. It doesn’t take long before the two butt heads, both stubbornly harboring old grudges and neither can reign their ego to concede. I feel that the film takes too slow to get to the heart of the story, which is when the town’s judge became a murder suspect of a man he sent to prison who was later paroled. You could see where the story’s going from a mile away, so there’s hardly any surprises when they all materialized. Even the fact that Joseph is terminally ill, which he vehemently tried to hide from everyone including his own family, is hardly surprising.

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The Judge is part courtroom/dysfunctional-family drama has its moments, but often times it’s way too clichéd and too over sentimental for me to truly enjoy. I’m a big cryer, I mean I cry watching even animated movies like Toy Story & How To Train Your Dragon, but I barely shed a tear in this one. Now I know that alone isn’t a measure of a movie’s quality, but I felt that the lack of emotional involvement makes this one pretty forgettable. The father-son storyline feels very familiar, you’ve seen it done many times over in both films and TV. Regardless of its A-list cast, this courtroom drama type story seems more suitable for a TV movie. 

Now speaking of that cast, I think Downey has dramatic chops, that’s been proven before, but here he doesn’t quite hit a new note. He’s Downey being Downey, and he seems to be playing another Tony Stark-type persona. Duvall is good but again, I think his acting cred is what makes his role interesting, not necessarily how he’s written. Even the scenes between two acting juggernaut RDJ and Duvall didn’t quite ignite the screen as you expect it to. Some of the shots of the courthouse seems to [attempt to] evoke To Kill A Mockingbird, which was Duvall’s big-screen debut. Alas, I must say that his small, non-speaking role there makes a bigger impression to me than he was in this entire film. The two supporting cast that did make an impression to me are Billy Bob Thornton and Vera Farmiga, as Joseph’s prosecutor and Hank’s high school sweetheart respectively. However, despite my admiration for Farmiga’s talent, the tertiary storyline between her and RDJ’s character gets more screen time than it needs to be. Dax Shepard lends some comic relief but his performance seems too goofy that it feels out of place. 

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It turns out that this was directed by David Dobkin, the director of R-rated comedies The Wedding Crashers & The Change-Up, which could explain the uneven tone of drama/comedy here. I think this film would’ve been a bit more digestible if it weren’t so repetitive and overlong. At 2 hour, 22 min, it’s 3 minute shorter than Gone Girl but not nearly half as intriguing. Now overall I think it’s a decent film but given the quibbles I’ve listed above, I’d probably save this one as a rental.

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Has anyone seen The Judge? Well, what did you think?

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33 thoughts on “FlixChatter Review: The Judge (2014)

  1. Great review, Ruth, I think we’re pretty much in agreement here, although I may have enjoyed it a little bit more than you. I loved the entire cast, but just wish the plot had been more consistent and less cliched. Still, I’d love to see Downey do more dramatic roles like this again, because he really is great in them.

    1. Hi Billy! I enjoyed some scenes but overall it’s too schmaltzy for me. For some reason I’m a bit bored w/ Downey’s schtick, I mean I LOVED him in Iron Man but now he seems unable to shake that persona, kind of like Johnny Depp is w/ Jack Sparrow.

    1. Hi Dan. Yep, I think under a better director it could’ve been more enjoyable. At the same time, the story itself is just ok, nothing special.

  2. Ted S.

    When I first saw the trailer, I was mildly interest in seeing it but after so many bad reviews and yours, I think I’ll skip it all together. Like you said it just looks like another TV movie of the week and the constant marketing push by the studio really bug me, it felt like an Oscar bait and I’m glad it’s not working.

    1. Yeah it does feel *bait-y*, people seem to be saying the same about St Vincent w/ Bill Murray. I guess if you’re a huge fan of the two leads it might still be worthwhile to see.

      1. Ted S.

        I’m a huge fan of both actors, in fact I think I’ve seen about 90% of the films they appeared in BUT I just don’t think I can stay awake for this one. Also, anything directed David Dobkin tends to be a snore fest, I fell asleep watching The Wedding Crashers, one of the most overrated comedies ever! He even somehow made a movie starring Jackie Chan kind of boring.

    1. Hi Chris! I really think RDJ himself can’t seem to shake his Tony Stark persona. Unlike say, Christian Bale who can still disappear into roles even after playing Batman.

  3. jackdeth72

    Hi, Ruth:

    I’m a huge Robert Duvall fan. Though, out of key scenes maybe or maybe not covered in trailers and hype. I really don’t see much of a film here.

    1. Hey Kevin, if you’re a huge fan of Mr. Duvall, I’d think this might still be worth a rent. Though I feel that he’s probably has done much more compelling work elsewhere.

  4. Hey Ruth! Your review of The Judge echoes what a lot of other reviews I’ve read of the film already. It sounds like there was an uneven tone and perhaps the wrong director attached to the project with a run-time that probably should have been cut. I’d like to see this movie, but I’m afraid I’ll be at the theater ALL DAY then. Ha! So I’m still debating whether or not I should wait til this comes out on DVD before renting . . .

    1. Hi Kris! I think the script is as much to blame here as the direction. Ha..ha.. well it’s not THAT long but yeah, just wait for dvd, it’s not horrible per se but it’s definitely not great. I even think that my rating might be a bit too generous.

  5. Downey is kinda getting on my nerves. I mean for the last 10 years, or however long it was since Iron Man I thought good for him for making all those money and doing franchises, after years of his talent earning him so little cash, he deserves it. But now he is getting mouthier with all that shitting all over superhero movies he did lately, making demands – hire Mel Gibson as director etc. and now he is starring in baity movie….where he is doing lazy, same old work again? At least Johnny Depp is not making ludicrous demands and gave up on pretending there’s artistic value to the crap he is doing.

    1. OMG! You’ve taken the word straight out of my mouth!! I was just writing about this exact topic for my Question of the Week!! I’m actually gonna link to your comment here as you’re absolutely spot-on. You’ve always been very perceptive, no wonder you’re in the legal field 😉

      1. Actually being perceptive is a huge obstacle in my job. If I were a robot, I’d do my work better. At least I wouldn’t feel awful about kids witnessing divorces or not be prejudiced – that is why I cannot be a judge, I usually have an opinion about a person after reading 1st of 11 volumes of the case and I don’t change opinions easily.

        1. I hear ya. Sometimes I feel the same in my job as a UI designer, but of course as human beings we can’t detach ourselves from our emotion. I don’t think I’d ever want to be a judge, it’s just so much pressure, I don’t think I could ever sleep at night w/ that kind of responsibility.

            1. Oy, that IS frightening. But at the same time I feel that perhaps that’s how they have to be to survive that line of work. Similar to doctors, esp surgeons who deals w/ terminal illness and deaths all the time. If they’re too emotionally-involved they’d be a basket case every single day!

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  7. Tom

    Nice one Ruth, seems this is what’s on everyone’s mind: stellar cast but not a good enough story to justify all the expensive pieces. 🙂

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  9. I do want to see this for the cast, so I’m probably just going to rent it, like you suggest. It doesn’t look like an awards movie at all, but I hear the score could be award-worthy.

    1. Just rent this one Josh. Really, you’ve seen this cast in far better performance besides this one. The score is pretty good, I forgot who the composer is though.

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