Most Anticipated 2014: The Judge

37. The Judge (R) - Runtime: 141 minutes
Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga
Director: David Dobkin
Writers: Nick Schenk, Bill Dubuque
Long before RDJ was charming his way into geeks' hearts, he was more known for his dramatic roles. His most iconic role was Chaplin for which he earned his first Oscar nomination. Robert Duvall has known nothing but drama throughout his career and they're both at their A-game here in this compelling drama about fathers and sons. While The Judge won't win any awards this year, this is still a solid adult-oriented (aka Rated R) drama that are few and far between each year.

You'd be surprised at a lot of the similarities between RDJ's Tony Stark (Iron Man) and his character Hank Palmer in The Judge. Both are narcissistic assholes, both are wealthy, self-made men and they have daddy issues. The latter is probably more important in this movie. Obviously. So it's not that much of a stretch for RDJ to play this role, but he does it so flawlessly. As for Robert Duvall, his character is a stubborn, old-timey somewhat of a jerk of a father and is played brilliantly. And after losing his wife, he gets accused of killing a man he put away thirty years ago.

As the movie progresses and you learn more about the history behind the Palmer's and their overbearing father, it becomes clear that the movie has its strengths and weaknesses. Mostly the family drama and the amazing chemistry between Duvall and Downey are the most engaging and thoroughly enjoyable parts to this movie. Watching them duel - as father and son - is simply fun to watch. There's a lot of heartache and anger in these performances and it's as gut wrenching to watch as it probably was for these two men to perform.

However, the main thrust of the plot - the crime and subsequent trial - all fall a little flat. Billy Bob Thornton comes in on his high horse and demands justice but he's clearly an asshole even though he would be the protagonist in any other courtroom drama. And the actual trial gets a little muddy and convoluted for its own good - the "reveals" of what really happened are not all that exciting. You kind of wish that Judge Palmer would just confess and get back to shouting at his son some more.

But aside from the courtroom, there's a lot to love in this film. The supporting cast is great - Vera Farmiga, Vincent D'Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Dax Shepard all have a chance to shine. The film may be a bit too long (it's almost two and a half hours!) and at times it feels a little slow, but the performances and the characters outweigh the negatives. At first, when I was leaving the theater, I felt like a lot of this hit home for me - going back from the big city to a small, rural town. Having confrontations with your father and facing your ex-girlfriend. But I realized most of that doesn't really hit that close to home (maybe a little bit of going back to a small town) and I credit the movie for making me feel that way - there's a lot of emotion throughout the film and it must have sunk into my thoughts. It's a very moving film and certainly worth seeing for the performances alone.


No comments: