Lowdown: Estranged lawyer son and judge father come together when the first has to defend the latter in court.
With Hollywood being as cash driven as it is, movies that are simply good because they cover all the basics – good plot, good acting etc – have become quite rare. From time to time we get a rare glimpse of what potential for Hollywood greatness really is when the stars align and we get a movie that is not sequel number seventeen, not a film that’s only there to garnish star power, and neither is it an abomination reliant on special effects. It’s rare, but occasionally movies like The Judge happen to slip though the claws.
The basic premises are relatively simple. Hank (Robert Downey Jr) is a very successful big city lawyer, making his money by exploiting the justice system in order to keep the criminals out of jail. His life looks the part, though: he hardly knows his little daughter and his trophy wife (Sarah Lancaster, of Chuck glory) is cheating on him. Guess he deserves that.
On the other side of the ring we have Judge Joseph (Robert Duvall), aka Judge. Judge has been presiding over his small town’s court for decades, and as a result knows everyone and everything. He does his best to use that knowledge in order to do good and uphold the justice system. One direct result of that is that many people in his area hate him; another direct result is the contrast in values driving Henry away. The two haven’t talked with one another for decades.
Then the mother in the family dies, and the family is forced to unite. Obviously, tensions rise, and that’s where The Judge begins to shine. We are exposed to numerous characters and they all receive fine treatment and get properly developed as we delve down and learn more and more about the family and its buried secrets. It’s a lot like what has been attempted in This Is Where I Leave You, but with a more serious and ultimately more realistic approach.
Shit really hits the fan for the family when our Judge turns out to be the main suspect in a murder case and, through circumstances, Hank is the only one capable of representing him. The collision of views is at its peak then, with one believing the justice system will prevail no matter what and the other seeking to exploit its weaknesses best. All that’s left for us viewers to do is sit back and enjoy a wonderful character driven and extremely well acted drama unfold before our eyes. At the end I was sad The Judge was only two and a half hours long; its story might be something we’ve seen many times before, but it is so well executed that I just wanted it to go on and on.
I would just like to add special reference for Vincent D'Onofrio, the actor playing Hank’s older brother. We’ve recently seen D'Onofrio playing Mr Fisk in Netflix’ new rendition of Daredevil. Between that, The Judge and plenty of other stuff this guy has been in, it occurs to us that this actor, always in the background, is so versatile and so good at what he does he can pretty much do anything well. It’s a bit sad an actor blessed with such skills isn’t better utilised. Then again, that’s Hollywood for you.
Hank and Judge ride in the same car when they can’t take their arguing any longer. They stop the car and leave, on foot, in opposite directions to create a very interesting (if mildly artificial feeling due to its posed smell) shot.
The scene also brings to attention the cinematography and color pallets The Judge opts for. These tend to heighten contrast at the price of looking artificial. Personally, I would have an argument or two with the director over their choices there. This is no Call of Duty video game; in a serious drama, such things call too much attention to themselves and detract from the overall experience.
Overall: The Judge may not have that magical ingredient that turns a very good film into an astonishing classic, but at least it clearly is a very good film. 4 out of 5 judging crabs.