the judge

It doesn’t matter how hard life is as long as you have your loved ones near you, ensuring their presence till your last breath.  

The judge is probably one of the most underrated films of 2014. Even though it is a passion project of the producers Susan Downey and David Dobkin, the movie has it’s own set of ups and downs, but the end product is a fresh breath of air for Robert Downey Jr fans.

Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr) shares a very arduous relationship with his father Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall) who is a well respected (and hated by those who are incarcerated by him) judge of Carlinville, Indiana. During a case, Hank receives a phone from his brother Glen (Vincent Dónofrio) informing him about his mother’s death. He is in a rough period himself as he is going through a divorce. After an ugly argument with his wife regarding child custody, Hank sets off to Carlinville, clearly despising every moment in his journey to Indiana. He meets his brothers and his father who just gives him a shake hand. Tension strikes the family the day after his mother’s funeral. Hank is forced to take up a case where his father is accused of manslaughter.

Source: nytimes

After watching the trailer and according to the description given in Internet Movie DataBase, I was under the impression that this is a suspense thriller with dramatic elements. It is exactly the opposite of course.

The movie depicted the father-son relationship beautifully. It is clear from the looks and gestures from both Hank and the judge that they both loved each other. Yet their ego and personality difference is what kept them apart. Another plus point is the self-effacing nature of Glen and his rapport with his family. However, the biggest drawback was the story line related to incest. The scenario can be justified as Hank was drunk and the girl (without giving too much away) was attractive. However, was it necessary? He accused his wife of adultery and this act of his made him no less disgraceful in terms of flirting, that too with someone who is a lot younger than him. It made the overall intense storyline ugly since too many things are happening. Also as much as I loved Vera Farmiga’s performance as Hank’s ex-girlfriend Sam, even her storyline doesn’t seem to sync in with the overall plot and that final twist regarding her daughter (without giving anything away) was obnoxious. The movie mixed up many unnecessary and ugly story lines which made it look like a large stack of cherries with rotten turnip in between.

If these elements in the story are ruled out, the movie is splendid with intense performances from the cast and there are many good messages. The pinnacle about the judge’s character is honesty and that he wouldn’t want to stain that reputation of his in any way, even if it costed him an estranged relationship with his son Hank. Robert Duvall, who received a well-deserved Oscar nomination, was stupendous and he pulled it off with ease, whether it is in his emotions for his late wife, his love/repulsion towards Hank and his personal battle with health. Robert Downey Jr always proved his flexibility and versatility with every film he’s done. He was living throughout the film whether it’s in his adamant nature; frustrations towards his father, hometown and Glen’s constant accusations regarding Hank’s repulsive nature. Vincent Dónofrio gave a controlled performance and Billy Bob Thorton was both adept and considerate as Hank’s rival and prosecutor in Judge’s case. He conveys his character depth with a look or gesture (the glass part for eg:) which is usually replaced by long monologs that drive the audiences into boredom.

The script was not perfect due to the flaws mentioned earlier, but it has many cool dialogues and situations that gave RDJ the opportunity to shine. For eg: him throwing the writing pad at gullible attorney C.P (Dax Shepard) as he is infuriated with his guileless performance during his father’s preliminary hearing. Then his reaction after seeing his father’s sweetness towards his daughter (he thought otherwise and taught his daughter to be cool) and cute one-liners that gave him a steadfast image. Thomas Newman’s score was memorable and David Dobkin executed the drama scenes well with depth. With better polishing of the script, the end result would be a great movie.


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