Big shot lawyer Hank Palmer (Robert Downey JR) is someone who is good at two things: Winning cases and defending obviously guilty parties. Hank has built himself a proud life of wealth, confidence and success upon these two traits. When the death of his mother calls him back to his hometown, It forces Hank to reunite with his family and more specifically, his father Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall).
With a father/son relationship that has been beaten down by a troubled family past, RDJ and Joseph are forced to work out their problems and to reconcile their issues, when Hank’s father is accused of manslaughter while drunk driving AND guess who his lawyer is going to be…
What follows is a family/courtroom drama that pits father against son in an effort to prove Joseph’s innocence and in the process, mend a broken home.
The Good – Robert Downey Jr and Robert Duvall
Robert Downey Jr is on the hot streak of a lifetime when it comes to his performances. In the past six six years, no matter what the film, bad or good, RDJ has always been spectacular in them. The Judge is no exception. Whether you can take or leave the very sappy overtones that this picture provides, one thing you can’t ignore is that RDJ is top notch in this film.
His charm, wit and overall talent brings this film to another level and in some instances, carries the film on his back. Their were certain scenes where I thought, If Robert Downey wasn’t on screen, I wouldn’t care about half of what was going on in front of me. It’s like if you’ve been dragged to a boring party and you’re already anticipating a bad time but then your friend Lenny showed up and made that party the best it could possibly be.
Robert Duvall showed some great chops as Joseph Palmer. Playing this stubborn, frustrated, hateful man who really comes into his own by the end of the film. You really do get a sense of why he is the way he is. Most of the time, I’m never into these “pull on your heartstrings” kind of stories. I find that they work on tired cliches that I find manipulative and uninteresting.
A lot of the character work in The Judge does have some depth to it and once you really start to understand the perspectives of these characters and why they have such animosity towards one another, you really understand their points of view and understand their relationship.
Long story short, when you have talented, seasoned actors like these two in the same room, great things can and did happen.
The Bad – I’ve Said It Before And I’ll Say It Again…TOO LONG!
When I sat down in my seat for this flick, I was expecting to get out of the theatre in about an hour and a half maybe an hour and 45 minutes. The film is almost 2 and a half hours long! I mean come on! I like a courtroom/family drama as much as the next guy but 2 and a half hours! With this running time, the film shot itself in the foot. There is a lot to get out of this film, RDJ, Robert Duvall, putting the pieces together as the courtroom elements grow stronger, discovering why Hank and Joe’s relationship is so battered and hateful.
When you run at that length of time and you don’t have enough to engage your audience with it you start to lose them and I feel that’s one of the bigger reasons why this film has a 48% on Rotten Tomatoes right now. It’s not to say that this is a bad film, far from it, but when the film starts to include elements to the story that doesn’t need to be there, you really feel it. It feels like a runner who started out great and then three quarters of the way through is hacking up fleming and is dragging their feet to the finish line.
So in the end what is The Judge? Is it a courtroom drama? family drama? character study? Is RDJ just doing his Iron Man thing mixed with Full House?
The answer is kind of all the above but done in the best possible way. With a running time that kind of throws the movie under the bus, their are some powerful performances from both RDJ and Robert Duvall.
The Judge does lean on old tired cliches but Robert Downey is so good as our main character that you almost don’t even care. The film has a lot to like about it and having an “in the middle” critic rating on Rotten Tomatoes means that half of the audiences liked it and the other half didn’t and I think that’s what this movie presents to you, you’ll either love it or hate it. Which one will you be?