Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Movie Review: "The Judge" (2014)

Movie"The Judge"
Director: David Dobkin
Rating: R
Running Time: 2 hours, 21 minutes
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Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) is a top Illinois defense attorney. He is very good at making sure his wealthy clients don't serve time. While in court one day, he gets word that his mother has passed away, which means he must return to his hometown for the funeral. Hank's father Joseph (Robert Duvall) has been a hard-nosed judge in Hank's small Indiana hometown for 42 years, and he and Hank do not get along at all. The night of the funeral, Joseph goes into a convenience store to pick up eggs. The next morning when Hank is about to leave, he sees obvious signs that his father's car has been in an accident, though Joseph has no recollection of this happening. It turns out the car was involved in a hit-and-run killing of an ex-convict, one that the Judge had convicted of murder 20 years back. The district attorney sees this as a murder case and send their best prosecutor, Dwight Dickham (Billy Bob Thornton) to handle the case. Joseph wants a local attorney named C.P. Kennedy (Dax Shepard) to handle his defense. When it becomes clear that C.P. is not equipped to defend the Judge adequately, Hank puts his anger aside and steps in to defend his father. 

We have said it in other movie reviews that deal with elderly people and we will say it again: being old, being sick and being sad does not excuse you from being an asshole. Judge Joseph Palmer is most certainly that. Though angry and bitter, Robert Duvall is exceptional in this movie. He plays the part of a crotchety old man so extraordinarily well that it's difficult to discern if he's truly acting or if that's just his personality. Regardless of if he gets nominated or not, his performance is most definitely Oscar worthy. Some will say Robert Downey Jr. is also deserving of such high praise, and he definitely is, as his portrayal of Hank is effective and moving at times. Let's be real, though: Hank is suave, handsome, charming, and a smooth talker with a shaky past involving doing stupid things while under the influence of drugs or alcohol that end up landing him in jail, yet eventually allowing him to turn his life around and become very successful. Sound familiar? That's because Robert Downey Jr. is basically playing himself. It's as if the parts for Hank and Judge Palmer were written specifically for Downey Jr. and Duvall. The rest of the cast does an excellent job as well, though we don't know if their performances are Oscar worthy. We were surprised to see Dax Shepard pop up in this film, and I have personally grown to like him over the years.

The bottom line we want to convey in this review is that, while we did like the film a heck of a lot more than we thought we would, it is very, very Oscar-bait-y, and this didn't change from when we saw the trailer. It looked bait-y then, and it was bait-y upon viewing it. It has a lot of gut-wrenching types of scenes with subject matters that are hard for us to watch personally as they hit close to home. But let's make no bones about it, the filmmakers were trying to throw every type of horrible situation they could into this movie. Between a death in the family, a terminal illness complete with all its bodily functions, an ex-lover resurfacing with the possibility of an illegitimate child, a fallen sports hero, a mentally ill brother, underage drug use, a court case the looms over an entire town and threatens to change family dynamics, a busy and career-centric father who has a habit of running away when things get tough and a wife who strays from their marriage leaving their child to suffer the consequence, as well as internal strife between a father and his son, you've got one hell of a recipe for cliches riddled with the drama llama.

Critics seem to dislike this movie quite a bit and we can't exactly pinpoint why. Sure, it's overly dramatic and panders to Oscar voters really, really hard. Yeah, it's got a lot of legal mumbo-jumbo, unlikely monologues and law situations that drag on and on and ultimately would probably would never happen in any courtroom in the country. Absolutely, it's overstuffed with complicated, deep-rooted emotional problems between a father, who is stubborn and ever mindful of the law, and his son, who was a hooligan and a misunderstood youth with issues that spilled over into his adult life, but does that a bad film make? To us, no. Though this movie is worth seeing for the incredible dynamic between Robert Duvall and Robert Downey Jr., and to a lesser extent with Vincent D'Onofrio and Jeremy Strong as his other two brothers, there's really nothing in this film that you haven't seen before, but it still manages to be gripping and can move you emotionally, that is, unless you have a heart of stone. That's really what going to the movies is all about, being enthralled or moved in some way and having a decent enough viewing experience to tell others about it.

My Rating: 8/10
BigJ's Rating: 8/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 48%
Do we recommend this movie: Yes!

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