The Judge Review

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By: Justin Jasso (@jjasso007)

If a major event happened and you needed someone’s help immediately, how many people in your life would drop whatever they’re doing and head to where you were right then and there? Three? Four? Five? If I were a betting man (I will not confirm nor deny any gambling tendencies), I would bet that most of the people you named were immediate family members. Family is one of the few constants in our lives, for better or for worse. Every family has members we all love and enjoy spending time with, then the other family members who are a little cooky, could probably use some Cymbalta, or are just plain weird and creepy and you really consider having DNA testing done to confirm your suspicions that they aren’t a part of the family. Families are multi-leveled and deeply complex, and this truth lays a foundation for the latest film from David Dobkin, The Judge.

Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) is a brilliant Chicago-based lawyer. He wins the cases he’s presented with, has the swagger or a rock star and is a loving father to his daughter. After receiving news of his mother’s passing, he has to return home to his Indiana town in which he grew up where it’s as if time has stood still. A town in which, years earlier, he had a falling out with his father, Judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall), leaving behind his former girlfriend Samantha (Vera Farmiga), his brother Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio), and his mentally challenged younger brother, Dale (Jeremy Strong), who walks around town filming everything on an old camera. Tensions run high and Hank wants to leave as soon as possible, but a murder case is soon presented against his father, one in which could lead to the destruction of his entire family. But can Hank and Joseph put their differences aside and be able to work together to get him off the charge or will the family dynamics crumble and everything fall into ruin?

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The Judge, on the outside, comes off as a lawyer based film, which we have all seen, but it is far more than that. While an impending trial is the backbone which provides a course for the story, the relationships between people is where the juicy meat of the story lies. In the movie, just as in life, the world is about people and relationships and how our interactions move us through life. The tension and uneasiness between Hank and Joseph is ever palpable from the moment they first come together on screen, and stays frost throughout the course of the film. But, as children, we often do not understand the reasoning why our parents do the things they do. At the same time, as parents, they cannot foresee how things they say or choices they make will affect their children going forward. We also understand the value of communication, or the lack thereof, and how that plays a major part in relationships. How not speaking up about things that bother us, instead allowing them to fester, eats at us from the inside and damages future interaction which spoil a relationship. And how we often wait until the end to talk about what has been hurting us to finally get some closure, while at other times it becomes too late and we never get that opportunity.

Nothing drives a relationship like a great performance and Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall perform admirably. This story really revolves around them and they carry the film with tour de force performances. Downey’s Hank is a top dog in Chicago, always getting his way, but coming back home, he falls back into the role he had as the father of the great Judge Palmer. Downey gives us a man who struggle with who he is, reverting back to the man who would rather run from his problems instead of face them head on; facts which are further reiterated by his relationships with his brother and with Vera Farmiga’s character. Duvall, on the other hand, is a man who has been in control all of his life and in all aspects of his life. But now he has lost his wife and he knows he isn’t getting any younger, meaning his time as a judge will eventually be coming to an end. Plus he also has another secret he’s been keeping from everyone. With Duvall we see the struggle on a man who has always been in control having to deal with a life in which he no longer has that control. Throw in a murder case, a mentally challenged son, a brother who has tried to support the family while Hank has been gone, and you have the makings of a thoroughly developed film with great character growth.

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The Judge is a drama, it has comedic elements (I mean, it’s Robert Downey Jr.), it has light heartedness and it has something we can all relate to. There are ups and downs, laughter and tears, anger and pain, but so it is with any family. No family is perfect, and The Judge makes that very evident. But it also allows us to look at our own families and realize that neither are we, but it’s not about being perfect, but rather about coming together in times of need and supporting each other to the very end. With everything that happens in life, our families are the ones who will always be there, just as Hank was there for his father, the judge.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


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