Film Review – The Judge

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Okay, I’m just going to hang myself out to dry here – I didn’t really like this film. It certainly had some enjoyable scenes and some excellent chemistry between it’s leads. It had solid tension in some pivotal moments, and it had a few laughs. I also teared up a couple of times. But as a complete piece it felt all over the shop to me.

Robert Downey Jr plays Hank Palmer, a gun lawyer with a reputation for representing the guilty and getting them off, who returns home to small town Indiana following the death of his mother.

It’s here that he spars with his Father – Judge Joseph Palmer,screen veteran Robert Duvall, who has been accused of murdering a local man named Blackwell.

Turns out Blackwell had been through Judge Palmer’s court a few years back and the Judge has good reason to harbour a grudge against the man.

Being the one judge in a small town for 42 years, it’s natural to assume not everyone is a fan of Judge Palmer.

Late in the evening of the day that he buries his wife, The Judge runs an errand in his prized car, and all the evidence points to him knocking Blackwell of a pushbike in a rain storm on his way home. But was it deliberate, or an accident?

The Judge wants to be remembered for “his legacy”, and references Ronald Reagan as a man who brought down the Berlin Wall, but is most remembered for his ill health as he aged. The Judge is keen to keep his image free of scandal and locks horns with his estranged son Hank once the latter is reluctantly signed on to represent his father, now on trial for murder.

This is a bit of a hodge podge, mish mash of a film that doesn’t seem to want to grant the audience to laugh or cry as the drama unfolds.

It seems to be a go to trope right now – a parent dies necessitating the return to the nest of one or all of the now adult children, cueing the characters playing out the tension that was never resolved between parents and kids, and siblings.

From August Osage County to This is Where I Leave You, The Judge joins that not particularly noteworthy genre of the empty nest that isn’t so empty anymore.

Where the film leaves the main narrative of the court case and attempts to pick up other threads with characters from Hank’s past, it all gets a bit jumbled and unnecessary.

Rather than a compelling courtroom drama or a tense family thriller, it straddles too many story-lines for my tastes, that ultimately detract from a really great premise.

Despite being 50-50 on this one, I have to say the cast is fabulous and there are some really quality moments throughout. Sadly they are in the minority. Just for the record though – Director David Dobkin wrote the much maligned R.I.P.D. as well as helming Wedding Crashers, Shanghai Knights and The Change-Up. If he wants us to go with him into the realm of drama, he has to be sure he’s comfortable leading the way.

2 & 1/2 Stars.

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