Rachel Smith ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
The trailers don’t give The Judge enough evidence for how impressive the actual movie is. They put a lot of emphasis on the cast and all the awards they’ve won, but that’s only a piece of the puzzle that makes this movie enjoyable. The story is powerful yet relatable, and the cinematography is like watching a painting come alive. It’s one long emotional roller coaster that you will get off of with a new look on family and the stages of life.
This is a particularly long roller coaster of emotions because the movie runs 141 minutes. Some people got up thinking it was over, but they still had another half hour to take in. You won’t really mind though, because the story lines all feel finished and understood. The main focus is on Judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall) and his estranged son, Hank (Robert Downey Jr.). Hank left their small town Indiana when he was young and built this seemingly perfect life as a lawyer in Chicago, with a cheating wife and daughter who he loves but isn’t around for.
We understand their family struggle but that is put on the back burner when Hank gets a call in court that his mother has passed away. Since he’s such a sleazy lawyer, his colleague thinks it’s a scam but he has proof and gets a retrial for his current case. This sleazy lawyer persona is evident and unappreciated when he finally makes it home for his mother’s funeral. His brothers Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio) and Dale (brilliantly played by Jeremy Strong) are reasonably happy to see him, but time and past incidents keep them distant. His father wants nothing to do with him. He shakes his hand at the funeral while hugging friends and neighbors. The broken relationship is clear and further explained throughout the movie.
They must get over there differences when Joseph is on trial for a hit and run murder case. Joseph doesn’t want Hank’s help, partly because he doesn’t like him, and partly because he knows what kind of lawyer he is. He hires the inexperienced, part time lawyer C.P. Kennedy (Dax Shepard). Shepard probably never dreamed of being in a movie with such a talented cast but he provides the much-needed comic relief at the appropriate moments.
Since C.P is awful, Joseph has to go to a real trial against tough lawyer Dwight Dickham (Billy Bob Thorton) who is looking to settle a score with Hank. Hank is “hired” by his dad but they have to work together very carefully and play it as a professional lawyer-client relationship. The family aspects peak through when Hank see’s how hard life is for his aging father, especially now without his wife.
They have conflicts in and outside the courtroom that feed into the background of their broken relationship. The rapport between Duvall and Downey Jr. is often what makes this movie great. They compliment each other being on opposite sides of the acting spectrum.
Between their big moments there’s Vera Farmiga who is perfect as Hank’s high school girlfriend/lost love, Sam, but could have been used more. Their chemistry is electric and, though the high school love storyline has been done, they give it their own spice that makes you believe them, and root for them.
Unfortunately the flattest story also involves Farmiga’s character. Her daughter, Carla (Leighton Meester) is home for summer and one night makes out with Hank, without knowing who he was or him knowing who she was. Throughout the movie is the underlying question of Carla being his daughter and incest and blah blah blah. They make it creepier than it needed to be, and the story could have been handled another way.
By the end you will have laughed and cried at the realism of family dynamics. Life and death and broken relationships are nothing to take lightly but they touch on all of these subjects with a heavy hand. You can feel the writers placing certain messages in front of you (maybe too obviously) but they are important. Overall this movie has a lot of heart that gets broken and mended throughout the two-hour film. The acting is brilliant from every single person on the screen. There’s a reason they won all those awards in the past and this film might earn some of them (Downey Jr. and Duvall specifically) a few more nominations.
Overall Grade: B+