Monday, 13 October 2014

Movie Review: The Judge (2014)

Whenever people bring up how great actors like Jack Nicholson or Liam Neeson are, it always kind of confuses me since, you know, they play every role they get exactly the same. Really, the only difference between the roles they, and a few other actors, get is that they may swear more in some of them. Ultimately, another actor who is making a fortune with this practice is one Robert Downey Jr: An intelligent, cunning, anti-social prick that really has a heart of gold and wants to do good; the Sherlock Holmes movies, his cameo in Jon Favreau’s Chef, Tony Stark in the Marvel Cinematic Universe… actually, pretty much anything he’s been in since Iron Man in 2008 has had him in this role.

Let’s be clear about one thing, though: I am NOT saying that this is a bad thing. Most actors are best suited for a particularly type of character. John Wayne was always best playing the tough cowboy in Westerns, Eva Green is great at playing a manipulative femme fatale and Robert Pattinson is good as the idolized boyfriend who can’t act his way out of a community theatre workshop. In the case of Downey Jr, the man has that special quality where he can walk into a room, make everyone feel like a complete idiot, walk out and get away with it, making everyone laugh all the while. In this movie, The Judge, he is once again playing this type; Henry Palmer is a defense lawyer who, through a series of unfortunate events, has to defend his father, the titular Judge Joseph Palmer, in a murder case. He is smarmy to pretty everyone on Earth, especially his own family, but there is no denying that the man knows his way through court cases.

First and foremost, since we are on the subject of actors, the cast all do terrific jobs with their roles. Downey Jr does excellent with his part, as does Robert Duvall as Joseph. It is incredibly easy to see these two being father and son in real life, given how well they play off each other and reflect each other’s mannerisms. As a lawyer who regularly has to defend clients he knows full well are guilty, Hank’s sense of justice is less in terms of what is right and more of what the jury ultimately thinks is right. Conversely, Joseph has a strong moral compass that makes him want to go for what is ultimately right regardless of what the jury thinks. This kind of dynamic isn’t really anything new in the realm of legal dramas, but I give credit where it’s due in terms of delivering the dynamic well, which Downey and Duvall certainly do. The other Palmer siblings, played by Vincent D’Onofrio and Jeremy Strong, play their roles well, although I REALLY feel sorry for Jeremy as the dimwitted youngest brother. Not that such a role is a bad thing in it of itself, but rather the fact that they played it for laughs a few too many times. They treat him sometimes like he needs to wear a crash helmet all day, is what I’m saying. Really, the only rough spot in the cast is Leighton Meester as Carla (You might recognize her from [this]). Then again, that character is a whole other bag of worms that, when her role in the sub-plot shows up, makes for an incredibly jarring moment. Game Of Thrones, anyone?

The story as a whole is well done, although some points are more predictable than others, with the climactic scene in the courthouse between Downey and Duvall being the highlight with some serious tear-jerking throughout. The character drama between the two leads as father and son is balanced nicely with the legal drama between them as lawyer and client, as well as the conflict between Hank and the persecution Dwight Dickham. I will admit that Billy Bob Thornton, who is a great actor in his own right, feels a bit lacking when placed next to our two leads, but he does more than enough with his role that is surprisingly not as two-dimensional as I first thought it would. Rather than just taking on the case to ruin Hank’s reputation, as would be the case in a more typical legal drama, he takes it on because he just wants to make sure that a (supposed) murderer doesn’t go free, and he is fully aware of how Hank is able to get criminals off with just a slap on the wrist.

The direction is quite impressive, especially when you consider David Dobkin’s other works which are mostly comedies like Fred Claus and The Change-Up. While he does have a serious thing for actors backlit by the sun (Seriously, there are a lot of shots like this), his handling of the camera along with the music does amazingly at drawing out the emotion from pretty much every performance given. It’s extremely difficult making a scene of a man showering his father off after he shits himself touching, but this movie somehow managed to do it. Yeah, seriously. There are quite a few moments like this, which definitely show Dobkin’s roots in bro-comedies, given the stupid younger brother, the showering scene, the first choice for Joseph’s attorney who has a weak stomach, not to mention the aforementioned sub-plot involving Carla that is initially played for laughs. Even with this in mind, I do hope that Dobkin stays the course and is involved more with films like this and less with films like R.I.P.D. in the near future, as he does a really good job here. Oh wait, he is producing the reboot/sequel of National Lampoon’s Vacation next year. *sigh* Maybe his next directorial effort will be more serious then… I hope.


All in all, this was a really good watch. I don’t often find myself getting all teary-eyed at the end of a film, but I definitely was by the end of this. Even if you’re not big on court case dramas, go see it just for Downey and Duvall’s performances; they’re worth the admission price on their own. This ranks better than The Boxtrolls, as this has a bit more substance to it, but not as good as The Lego Movie, which has tonnes more originality. The Judge sits in a very good position as one of the best films so far this year.

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