Movie Review: The Judge


Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Billy Bob Thornton, Vincent D’Onfrio, Dax Shepard

Rated R for language including some sexual references, Running time 141 minutes, Drama

Compare to: August: Osage County (2013), This is where I Leave You (2014)

It’s getting rarer and rarer to see Robert Downey Jr. in a movie that doesn’t involve him jumping into an Iron Man suit at some point. Between being contractually obligated to make roughly one million appearances as the character would probably tie him up for a bit.

So while the suit doesn’t make an appearance, Downey Jr.’s trademark sardonic wit is ever present as though Tony Stark himself decided to take up law and dealing with daddy issues. Then again, the latter has already happened. Where The Judge succeeds is in it’s cast, and where movie fails is in its length and what seems to be unintentional humor. I still can’t tell.

Successful lawyer Hank Palmer heads home to attend his mother’s funeral. And as much as he’d like to leave as soon as he arrives, his father, Judge Joseph Palmer, is accused of murder. The only thing more difficult than proving him innocent is reconciling the two’s dysfunctional past.

Law & Order: Family Matters

Law & Order: Family Matters

The story is simple enough and there are enough moments here to make you really feel what you’re watching. The acting by every member of the cast is fitting for their roles, with Downey Jr. of course playing up to his signature personality that makes it difficult to tell where the script ends and the improv began. The relationship between Duvall and his onscreen kids is one of similar standing to 2011’s Warrior, starring Joel Edgarton and Tom Hardy as Nick Nolte’s sons who, frankly, hate him. The Judge throws similar blows as Warrior did, but without the same impact.

While the family fighting and Hank Palmer digging up all the skeletons of his past matter without the character of Hank coming off as too difficult himself, there are just too many moments we don’t need. Drama is thrown in seemingly for the sake of drama and after a while, there are just some loose ends to tie up that you didn’t care about in the first place. It’s not that these bits are well performed, but with a near two and a half hour run time, it gets to you and not necessarily in the way it was intended.

The cliches abound here as well when it comes to all of Hank’s past. Daddy issues, hot shot lawyer going through a divorce, left his home town and never looked back, you get the idea. Oh, and don’t think his high school sweetheart got fat and left town. Nope, she’s a laid back, practical lady played by Vera Fermiga. Sure, she’s willing to give Hank another chance but only after they’ve discussed the past and gotten pissed at each other for the making up to be oh so sweet.

Will! They! Reconcile!

Will! They! Reconcile!

I’m not meaning to spoil anything by any means, or to casually dismiss much of the story. Duvall and Downey Jr.’s relationship, personally and professionally, will keep you wondering what’s going to happen but all the rest begins to feel like added weight to a story that’s heavy enough as it is.

Positives: Great cast, well filmed, interesting premise at its core.

Negatives: Too may cliches, too long a run time.

Grade: C


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