The Judge (2014) – Film Review

The Judge

Starring Robert Downey Jr, Robert Duvall, and Vera Farmiga

Directed by David Dobkin

IMDB Rating: 7.4

Review written by Rachel Geiger [Become a contributor!]

Robert Downey Jr. did a nice job stepping away from the Marvel movies for a little while and trying out something different. Downey and Duvall complemented each other well, but the story and the supporting characters were lacking. The emotions at certain points in the film felt overdone and not authentic. Despite the mixed feelings it generates, this is still a decent film as a whole, it just might not be for everyone.

Hank Palmer (Downey) is a big shot lawyer living in Chicago with his daughter and is currently going through a divorce and battling for custody. He is estranged from his family in small town Indiana but returns home when he gets the call that his mother died. His dad Joseph (Duvall) is a longtime judge and is highly regarded by the town. There is still a lot of obvious tension between Hank and Joseph and Hank is excited to take his daughter and leave his old small town behind again. However, everything changes when an accident involving his father happens and Hank must defend him regarding the charges of first-degree murder. Secrets come to light as Hank learns the importance of family.

The writing of the script included three different writers who were enlisted to make changes to it. This gives some explanation for how the plot seemed to try too hard. It also just seemed to have dramatic moment after dramatic moment and I found that to get old pretty quickly. It’s not a bad plot, but it isn’t a unique one either. It seemed like your average legal drama that combined family drama for good measure. I think they could have left out some of the less important subplots because the film turned out to be much longer than it should have been.

I like Robert Downey Jr. for reasons that I’m not completely sure of. I think he has this charisma that is contagious and I’ve always liked that about him. Yes, he’s somewhat of a jerk in this one, but isn’t he always just a little bit of a jerk in most of his films? Robert Duvall received an Oscar nomination for this. I’d say that his nomination says more about his status as an actor and less about the actual film, but I still think he did a good job as usual. Vera Farmiga’s character just seemed underdeveloped and out of place. They added quite a lot of drama for this character, but it felt like more of a plot device than an actual well-developed character to me. Billy Bob Thorton also had a supporting role in this and I felt like he should have had even more of a role. His character was the lawyer on the opposing side who was hard pressed on Duvall’s character being put away for a long time. I wanted to know more about why Thorton’s character was so serious and determined, we didn’t get any background at all which I think was needed to become invested in his character.

I’m only familiar with David Dobkin’s work through Wedding Crashers but it seems like he has mostly only directed comedies. With that being said, I think he handled drama surprisingly well. The shots were really beautiful as we got to see Chicago in the beginning and then small town Indiana for the majority of the film. I found it interesting that most of it was shot in Massachusetts (and a little in Pennsylvania) but regardless of where it was filmed, the sites were still gorgeous and interesting to see.

This was an okay movie that seemed to be lacking in some areas. However, I don’t think it’s a terrible film, and it might be something that people enjoy. The cast is filled with impressive actors, there were very few actors in it that I didn’t recognize and that can be rare. The Judge is a dramatic court film filled with fascinating twists and turns.

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