The Judge - 141min - R
The best part of this film is the spectacular cast. Working with excellent material, director David Dobkin, whose films have been hit or miss, has created a wonderful story that plays well and gives the setting an honest feeling. The characters all play well off one another without overdoing it. The story could easily fall into a bog of sentimentality but it provides enough to give the film flavor without overdoing it. I sentence this film to be a green light.
Hank (Robert Downy Jr.) is a high priced defense attorney. His client list consists of the worst of humanity but the best paid. When he gets a call from his brother to say his mother has passed away, he is faced with going back to his home town and dealing with the family issues he has separated himself from. His father (Robert Duvall) is a judge of the local area and is a hard man. Hank reconnects with his family and his old life. His interactions are those of an outsider only there to bury his mother.
As he about to leave, his father gets accused of killing a man he had problems with in the past. Now, Hank has to stay and defend his father. Through the trial, he starts to learn about his past and why his relationship with his father has been so hard. This journey is peppered with self-realization and a new understanding, and Robert Downy Jr. does an excellent job of showing us that journey. His performance is spot-on.
This film's trailer is misleading. It really focuses on the trial but the story has way more depth than expressed. The movies that show growth of a character are more appealing to me than anything else. They give us hope that we can change as well. Hank is going to be Hank but the story shows us his change in direction as a person without losing the edge of flare of who that character is. His journey back home brings to light a lot of feelings and emotions that he has buried but not forgotten.
Robert Duvall's portrayal of Judge Palmer is excellent. He really does an outstanding job of expressing the proud professional that sacrifices his relationship with his son to maintain the image of propriety in the community. He would rather be found guilty than have his judgments called into question because of possible evidence that could save him in the trial.
Some outstanding performances that need recognition are Vincent D'Onofrio and Vera Farmiga. D'Onfrio completely nailed the emotional struggle of the older brother who has moved past the loss of his shot at baseball and the frustrations of the possibility of having to be the cartaker of his youngest brother. Farmiga is a great strong independent woman. Her character's strength is in knowing her feelings for Hank but also knowing who he is and she doesn't let that change or color her world.
I enjoy the realism of the story. Its strength is the honesty of the characters and their realness. Other films of this nature give in to sentimentality but this one keeps it feet on the ground and provides a good story that makes the viewer enjoy the ride. We also see the change in character in the opening scene Hank urinates on the prosecuting attorney after his journey we see him in the same setting offering the character a bit of advice. The second interaction is completely civil and a perfect touch.