February 1, 2023
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Life & Culture

Review: ‘The Judge’ fueled by stars Downey Jr. and Duvall

"The Judge"

Directed by David Dobkin

Hank Palmer is one of the best lawyers in the city of Chicago and has handled most of his cases with confidence and success. Even though he is going through a rough divorce, he still enjoys his nice home and a young daughter. However, he rarely sees his parents or his brothers. But once he finds himself going from defending one of his clients to defending his own flesh and blood, he begins to realize that he has the responsibility to keep his not-so-perfect family together.

The new drama,“The Judge,” follows Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) who returns to his childhood home of Carlinville, Indiana, to attend his mother’s funeral, but ends up defending his father, a judge, accused of murdering a rival of the family. The “Iron Man” actor portrays Hank as he does with most of his movie characters: confident, sarcastic, charismatic and a bit egoistical. However, he also adds a more caring and emotional side that develops along with the relationship with his father.

After the funeral, Hank stays with his estranged family, during which the audience begins to understand just why they had separated. Hank constantly argues with his father, Judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall), who throughout Hank’s visit gives him the cold shoulder to the point where Hank gladly gets on the next flight back to his city home. But his departure is delayed when he finds out that his father is suspected of murder, leaving Hank tasked with uncovering the truth behind these allegations.

Throughout the film, there is a pleasing balance of comedy and drama. There are many more serious and tense scenes in the film, but the comedy gives the viewers a break from the intensity. Occasionally, there is a sly comment from Downey Jr.’s character, or an innocent, yet funny line from Hank’s younger brother, Dale (Jeremy Strong), that eases the audience members away from the more solemn moments among the family. This combination of drama and comedy not only keeps the audience engaged with the film, but makes the story more distinct in that it isn’t just confined to the realm of a drama.

Downey Jr. proves to be both a great comedic and dramatic actor in this role. During the more emotional scenes with his elderly father, the viewer feels the reality of their bond and sees the growing love that Hank finds for his father. This not only makes the story more real, but also allows the audience to relate to this father-son conflict.

For an 87-year-old actor, Duvall himself doesn’t disappoint and convincingly portrays Judge Palmer’s character as a strict, law-abiding man who believes in a good reputation and self-dignity. As the movie progresses, there is a decline in this attitude that Judge Palmer holds, and the murder accusation makes him desperate for any help he can get, even if he needs the aid from Hank. Through this conflict, the audience can’t help but sympathize with Duvall’s character, especially as other unfortunate occurrences come to light, making him need his son more than before.

Besides the film’s focus on the interesting case, the story also focuses on the importance of family and being proud of where one comes from. The movie also includes many subplots and stories that, after a while, feel a little distracting and take away from the important drama that drives the main plot.

For instance, there’s a subplot centered around Hank and his high school lover, Samantha (Vera Farmiga), whom he reconnects with when he returns to his hometown. There’s another story that concentrates on the rivalry between the Palmer family and the Blackwells. It seems that often the screenplay cannot decide where the story should go, and instead just puts all these smaller “stories” together to create one big picture. It’s a shame they weren’t executed more precisely since the subplots, though confusing at times, do ultimately prove necessary in comprehending the overall story.

“The Judge” is both a serious drama and a lighthearted comedy that is definitely worth its 2 ½-hour run time. The story follows this distanced father-son relationship that turns into a more complicated, loving one. There are chuckle-worthy moments, as well as tissue-box scenes, all of which aid the film’s gripping nature. Along with this, both Downey Jr. and Duvall excel in portraying a complex bond between the two characters, bringing new meaning to the notion of family.

Ana Borruto can be reached at aborruto@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @anaborruto