Synopsis: Big city lawyer Hank Palmer returns to his childhood home where his father, the town’s judge, is suspected of murder. Hank sets out to discover the truth and, along the way, reconnects with his estranged family. (Synopsis from IMBD.com)
Review: I have a great metric for determining if I should go see a movie. If the Washington Post and New York Times movie critics hate the film, then I will probably love it. So far, this perfectly arbitrary standard has not failed. I enjoy a well-crafted courtroom drama and there has not been a decent one since The Lincoln Lawyer in 2011. Hence, I was excited about seeing The Judge. And the movie does not disappoint.
Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall play off of each other extremely well. All their scenes together highlight their acting strengths. It is refreshing to see actors able to act off of each other and not off a CGI humanoid. Sometimes all the explosions and CGI worlds allow actors to coast by with minimal effort. However, in dramas like The Judge, flimsy acting would quickly diminish the dramatic elements. Thankfully, this film was well cast and there were no glaringly wooden performances. Dax Shepard did a great job portraying an inept small time lawyer.
The film is both a courtroom drama and a father-son relationship film. The majority of the film follows the tense relationship between Hank (Downey Jr) and the Judge (Duvall). Any family can relate to most of the struggles depicted on screen. This is a character driven film, so the story unfolds slowly. However, each layer helps to give the main characters greater depth. The actual courtroom scenes are great. Downey does a fantastic job portraying a hotshot lawyer. My favorite scene is when the lawyers have to pick the jury. It is quite funny. Billy Bob Thornton is the prosecutor and he does a great job verbally sparring with Downey.
My one complaint is the length. Personally, I feel the film would have been stronger is about thirty minutes were shaved off the running time. The overarching narrative was occasionally bogged down by the subplot involving Hank’s high school girlfriend. While this helps humanize Hank, it does take time away from the main narrative arc. Otherwise, I was thoroughly entertained and impressed by the film and its actors. In a world of sequels, prequels, remakes, and trilogies, it was refreshing to watch a movie with a definite beginning and end. I hope Robert Downey Jr continues to make films in a similar vein. Once again, I am glad I ignored the “professional” critics.
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