The Judge – Guilty Of Bringing A Tear To Your Eye – Review

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Courtesy Warner Brothers

Robert Downey Jr. stars as Hank Palmer – a big shot Chicago attorney who makes tons of money defending those who have tons of money to pay for his services, and do the things that cause them to be defendants.

While he is estranged from his family, a recent event has forced him to return home.  Hank has to go back to Carlinville, Indiana because his beloved mother has passed away.  During the less than cheerful family reunion, complete with lots of scenes proving to us Hank doesn’t get along with his Dad, Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall), who happens to be the most respected judge in town, Dad runs into some legal troubles.

On the night of the funeral, Judge Palmer went for a drive through town, and he has been accused of hitting a man on a bicycle, killing him, and leaving the scene of the accident/crime.  Of course, the victim is the one man against whom the judge may bear a grudge, so everyone is wondering if the old man has gotten his ultimate revenge.

Will Hank be able to step up and act as his father’s defense attorney?

What happened that night?

Will Hank and his Dad hug it out?

The Judge is an extremely contrived movie propped up by amazing performances.

Writers Nick Schenk and Bill Dubuque are tossing in every cliché but the kitchen sink as we get a movie that features the city slicker who returns to his country hometown, the disastrous father/son relationship that needs healing at a time of desperation, an old flame and more family secrets being revealed than the craziest episode of The Real Housewives of New Jersey.

It’s all a bit too much.  The Judge would have been a better movie with less of the muddled family drama, more sizzling courtroom drama and less comic relief.  Schenk and Dubuque can’t avoid going for a yuck here and a chuckle there, but some of it inappropriately comes from a character who is mentally challenged and some of it just doesn’t fit in with the rest of the movie’s tone.

The Judge is a better movie when it’s serious, even if some of the seriousness devolves into melodrama.  Even the big courtroom showdown starts off as a thrilling battle, only to become inconclusive and sappy because Schenk and Dubuque are trying to be all things to all members of the audience.

However, Downey, Duvall and the rest of the amazing cast make The Judge a compelling movie, even if it is too long.  Downey is the perfect angry smart aleck.  He seems to be the best at playing lovable bad boys with a heart of gold and sharp tongues, and that talent is on full display here. Luckily, he also adds the needed depth and emotion to make Hank realistic as a great attorney and man troubled over the past and his relationships with various people in the family and the town.  He’s more than Tony Stark as a lawyer.

Then, Duvall steals the show.  Watching him play Judge Palmer is a great assignment for any actor who wants to learn the craft.

He makes the character extremely complex from his general prickly exterior to the suffering he faces to the way he can melt and show a true sense of love and compassion when least expected.  Many lesser actors would have growled and yelled their way through the performance, but Duvall is awesome because he has the intensity to deliver the lines with force instead of volume.

The Judge is one to watch if you love acting, and can forgive overwrought drama.

3waffles_sml3 Waffles (Out of 4)

The Judge is rated R for language including some sexual references.

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