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