Movie review: The Judge

Roslyn Hull

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.” ~ imdb

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I saw this film for one reason. Robert Downey Jr.

I’ve been a fan for so long I remember him before Iron Man, before Sherlock Holmes, even before Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang. I am from the ‘80s and he was the wunderkind of that era – heartbreaking in Less Than Zero and Oscar worthy in Chaplin. However it was all down hill from there. The addictions, the craziness, the gaol sentences.

As he says, he no longer drinks because he is allergic to it – he breaks out in handcuffs.

Anyone else would have become a do-you-remember, a footnote – the amazing young actor that blew his chance – but not him. He is now the world’s highest paid actor due to the aforementioned franchises and it is time to remind the world he is an actor, not just a star.

This is the first release of ‘Team Downey’, the production company created by Downey and his wife Susan. In fact it seems she is the driving force and I only hope she doesn’t run out of steam because this is an exceptional first effort.

It is an actor’s dream.

Most of the roles are all filled by actors known for their ability, not their celebrity, and there is not one weak performance. Even those actors with some notoriety tone down their persona and do excellent work.  The deputy (Balthazar Getty), the local lawyer (Dax Shepard), the prosecutor (Billy Bob Thorton) and the old flame’s daughter (Leighton Meester) enhance the story with grace and gravity.

Vera Farmiga as Downey’s highschool sweetheart is earthy and strong in what could have been a cookie cutter role but she makes it something special. As for the brothers – Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Downey – they are simply wonderful.

However, everything gets taken to another level when the judge, Robert Duvall, faces off against Robert Downey Jr. There were a few times when I had to distance myself from the story for a moment just so I could acknowledge I was watching two astounding actors at the top of their game, who just seemed to push each other a bit more and a bit more in each scene. Wow.

I didn’t want it to end and was not aware of the 141 minutes running time because the story is rich, detailed and like the best stories has so many sub-plots, so many layers to it that I found myself thinking about it days later.

The story is sprawling and at once ordinary and tragic and does take us on quite a journey. However for me it is the moments that echo still – the love the two older brothers have for the youngest, the home movies, the miscommunications and pride that kept father and son apart, rash youth and wounded age. Just life, but magnified for us to see.

This film has been judged harshly by critics but I don’t know why. It is true that David Dobkin’s direction is not as nuanced as it could have been – but it is also better than I would have expected from a director known for Wedding Crashers and The Change Up.

Yes, it is part courtroom drama, part family tragedy and part coming of age story (albeit after years of arrested development). But there is an attempt in the way the story unfolds and in the way the actors portray this to go beneath the obvious, to question rather than offer solutions and to give the audience a film they can sink their teeth into.

Is it too soon to talk Oscars?

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Ros Hull

Roslyn is a writer and storyteller who loves all things Canberra, her family, sci fi and movies – but not in that order. She has worked in museum education since 2001 and has a passion for imparting knowledge to others. Writing is her happy place, particularly if there is a dog at her feet and a coffee in her hand. More about the Author

  • TrickyT

    We saw this to fill some time on a rainy day last week during a mini-break vacation and all 4 of us enjoyed it. The cinematography is excellent, capturing emotion and pathos between the complex relationships.

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