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The Warsaw Voice » World of Movies » November 3, 2014
Film review
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The Judge
November 3, 2014   
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Even a script rife with overused clichés can be brought to life by a good director working with quality actors. That’s what David Dobkin has done with The Judge.

Dobkin made a name for himself as the director of unchallenging comedies such as Wedding Crashers, The Change-Up and Shanghai Warriors. But his latest offering shows he can also make family dramas and court dramas—The Judge is a blend of these two genres.

The movie tells the story of a successful, sought-after lawyer who is forced to travel back to his small hometown after a tragedy hits his family. Located in the middle of nowhere, the town and its people could not be more different from the big city he’s used to.

The unexpected situation throws the main character, Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.—Iron Man series, Sherlock Holmes, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), into a struggle where he needs to confront his inner demons. Hank returns to his childhood home somewhere in Indiana to attend the funeral of his mother. His plan is to leave as soon as possible. He has a lot on his plate—in addition to his regular workload, Hank is going through a painful divorce involving a battle for the custody of his beloved little daughter. The place where he was born and raised does not exactly bring back happy memories, as in his early years Hank, along with his big brother Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio—Full Metal Jacket, Men in Black) and their youngest brother Dale (Jeremy Strong—Zero Dark Thirty, Lincoln), were dominated by their authoritarian father Joseph (Robert Duvall—Apocalypse Now, The Godfather, Falling Down). A local big shot, their father is the town judge who for 40 years has been sending people to jail, his own son included. When Hank was 17, he ended up in a detention center for young offenders after causing a car accident while on drugs. The accident left Glen, a promising baseball player, with an arm injury that ruined his sports career.

Hardly surprising then that Hank is reluctant to reconnect with his estranged family. But life has other plans for him when out of the blue, his father faces murder accusations when a local lowlife is killed in a hit-and-run and his blood is found on the judge’s car. As it happens, years ago the victim drowned his girlfriend and Palmer Sr. put him in jail for 20 years as a result. The 72-year-old judge now cannot—or does not want to—remember what happened the fateful night when he drove to a supermarket after his wife’s funeral. It also turns out that the judge is terminally ill and the side effects of his chemotherapy may be affecting his behavior. One way or another, Hank needs to defend his father in court, where Palmer Sr. seems to be his own worst enemy. Even worse, the visiting prosecutor, Dwight Dickham (Billy Bob Thornton—Armageddon, Bad Santa), is efficient, meticulous and has a grudge against Hank for saving an evidently guilty man from prison. As Hank puts it in the opening scenes, “innocent people can’t afford me.”

The Judge is a competently made film whose only big problem is that, at 140 minutes, it is far too long, making you wish more of it had been left on the cutting room floor. Everything else is just fine, from superb performances delivered by the cast, Downey Jr. and Duvall in particular, to compelling images of provincial America shot by cinematographer Janusz Kamiñski, an Academy Award winner for Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List. The movie also gains a lot from the atmospheric score by Thomas Newman, who has been nominated for 12 Oscars for movies such as Skyfall, The Shawshank Redemption and Finding Nemo.
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