“This family’s a fucking Picasso paintings,” said Hank Palmer.
Courtroom drama used to be “the smartest sub-genre” among others until it’s not anymore. Cliche and skeptical thought towards such genre—’cause it’s usually talkie and dragging—has favorably made it a rare gem lately. Director David Dobkin with a full resume of comedies (Wedding Crashers) attempts to bring this genre back to pitch; bringing greatest A-listers and solid writers (Nick Schenk—Gran Torino and Bill Dubuque)—the result is amazing: a tough courtroom melodrama that revolves around conflicting family that goes for 140 mins.
The Judge revolves around Henry ‘Hank’ Palmer (Robert Downey Jr. that being too typeset), a Chicago defense attorney, that comes back to his home town in Indiana to attend his mother’s funeral. Reuniting with the whole town—along with his family and colleagues—he abhors is never an easy task for him; what Hank wants is only leaving as soon as possible. Yet, tragedy comes when his father, Joseph (Robert Duvall), a provincial judge, is accused in a murder case; whether he likes it or not, Hank has to stand firm to defend his father as a defense attorney. However, his way is never an easy one; his bond with his father and the whole family is testified once again.
Judging from the duration, The Judge is a tiring melodrama that might nod you off; yet, it’s not a 100% correct. The plot has the shade of genre-cliche, but is structured with some highlights that “explode” in some moments. The plot goes so slow but solid like an episode of TV series—or let’s say two episodes of a series at once. However, the script knows the strength of this movie very well; the writer knows how to make the stars shine.
RDJ, as the defense attorney, shines so brightly; he knows every detail of his character. The thing is, his cinematic persona is being a typecast already. His Hank Palmer is another Tony Stark or Sherlock Holmes; he’s still the smartest man in the room—handsome, clever, stubborn, and womanizer; which is very boring, especially if you have followed him for the last decade. No wonder, RDJ knows the drill. Had his character been ‘a completely different man from he’s now’, perhaps, The Judge might get a cult actor or a backfire, instead.
Robert Duvall, however, still gets his best performance although he’s not as young and aspiring as he ever been. How he portrays a good judge turning a felon is, just, as convincing as he portrays a father resisted by his lawyer-son. How Duvall maintains the chemistry with RDJ might be the best father-son chemistry for some time. And Dobkin knows how to exploit this chemistry to project some ‘masculine’ tearjerking moments; making The Judge focus more on the family matter rather than the crime matter.
The Judge is also fueled with the giant casts (which immediately reminds me to August: Orange County last year); but who really impress me is Billy Bob Thornton as the slick prosecutor—spotlighting the other side of him back-to-back from being a bad-ass killer in TV adaptation of Fargo.
Indeed, The Judge is not an easy film to follow; it always feel uncomfortable to watch this film—judging from the dialogues and sentimental directing. However, if you’re seeking a movie with ‘feeling’, The Judge might be the best choice. RDJ and Duvall might be the stars, but The Judge is not about the stars; it’s about family over everything.
The Judge (2014)
Drama Directed by: David Dobkin Written by: Nick Schenk, Bill Dubuque Starred by: Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Billy Bob Thornton, Vincent D’Onofrio Running Time: 141 mins Rated R for language including some sexual references