Set in a small town that could be anywhere, The Judge revolves around the relationship between a father named Joseph Palmer and his family but mostly his son Hank in particular. The relationship between father and son(s) has always been strained as the father (played by the excellent Robert Duvall) is a bit of a rigid, strict kind of person and isn’t an easy guy to get along with. Joseph also happens to be a judge of the town the story takes place in and has been the town judge for something like 41 years. The conflict of the story comes from Joseph getting into a car accident right after his wife’s death. The accident involves him hitting someone on a bike and killing them that just so happens to be a person that the judge put away in prison for awhile. His son Hank (portrayed by Robert Downey Jr.) also happens to be a lawyer and ends up representing his father during the trial deciding the judge’s fate…
The story might not sound like the most exciting thing in the world but there’s some great drama here. The writing overall is solid although I did think the movie was a tad bit long (almost 2 and half hours, which could’ve been trimmed down to 2 hours) so there are times it drags a bit in terms of pacing. Overall the story sheds light on the characters through some backstory exposition and of course keeps things moving along when it gets to the trial of the judge. The moments leading up the trial deal with the death of the family’s mother and the dysfunctional unit that’s left behind to cope. Some tension shows up during the family interacting with each other (like most families experience) and things get ramped up a bit as the details of the trial shed light on other elements related to the family’s tension. The conclusion I thought was both satisfying and fair along with being a bit bittersweet and hopeful at the same time, very well written overall.
In terms of performance, the acting is one of the main reasons to see this film. The actors all turn in passionate, tight performances. Robert Duvall and Robert Downey Jr. are particularly compelling to watch, especially in the scenes with each other. There’s some masterful acting going on here, lots of great subtle moments as well as big passionate points as well. Other performers turn in engaging performances as well, I thought that Vera Farmiga (as Hank’s high school girlfriend) was fun, flirtatious and intriguing and Billy Bob Thornton as the prosecuting attorney was slick and interesting as a protagonist. The cast is well rounded and includes the talents of Vincent D’Onofrio, Dax Shepard, Jeremy Strong, Leighton Meester and Ken Howard.
Generally speaking, The Judge is a well-crafted (and acted) drama. If you like drama and enjoy good dialog along with a multi-layered storyline, you’ll probably enjoy this one, I did.
reviewed by Sean McKnight