By Jon Gallagher
The Judge (WB, 2014) – Director: David Dobkin. Writers: Nick Schenk, Bill Dubuque (s/p). David Dobkin, Nick Schenk (story). Stars: Robert Downey, Jr., Robert Duvall, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong, Dax Shepherd, Billy Bob Thornton, & Vera Farmiga. Color, 141 minutes.
Pairing Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall as an estranged son and father, then combining it with a murder mystery, seemed like a good idea with lots of potential.
Downey plays Hank Palmer, a successful Chicago attorney who will do anything within the realms of legality to get his clients off. He’s called home, a place he hasn’t been in about 10 years, to attend the funeral of his mother. His father, the small town, no-nonsense judge, the Honorable Joseph Palmer (Duvall), barely acknowledges him. The tension between the two is tight, although it seems Hank gets along fine, or as well as can be expected, with older brother Glen (D’Onofrio) and younger, mentally challenged brother Dale (Strong).
Just before Hank is scheduled to leave, his father is arrested on a murder charge. According to the charges, the judge ran down a bicyclist with whom he had a confrontational past. The judge hires a young, inexperienced lawyer (Shepherd) to defend him against the charges.
Hank sticks around to watch, and after seeing the younger lawyers strategies (or lack thereof), takes over the case himself.
I was hoping for a good old-fashioned whodunit, but it just didn’t happen. The story is straightforward with a few minor twists and turns, but no great surprises. The relationship between Hank and his father is always interesting and the interaction between characters with the backstory that intertwines itself throughout was good, but the plot itself did nothing to keep me on the edge of my seat like I had hoped that it would.
That’s not to say this is a bad movie; it just didn’t accomplish what I wanted it to accomplish.
Both Downey and Duvall are excellent in their respective roles. Thorton turns in a darn good performance as the special prosecutor brought in to represent the state (he has a personal ax to grind with Hank). There are no bad performances in the movie.
There was enough conflict between characters to keep it interesting, and the verdict is in question till the end, even though (SPOILER ALERT) we know the judge did in fact run over the victim with his car.
So why am I only giving it a C+? There were some slow parts, which made the movie seem even longer than the 141 advertised minutes. Again, I had hoped for more of a whodunit, and came away disappointed in that regard. I was pleasantly surprised at the interaction between the characters, which made up for some of my disappointment at the lack of mystery.
All in all, it was a decent movie, one that I’m glad I waited to watch on DVD or PPV rather than drive 30 miles to a theater to watch.