The Judge (2014)

  • Time: 141 min
  • Genre: Drama
  • Director: David Dobkin
  • Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Billy Bob Thornton, Leighton Meester


Hank Palmer is a successful defense attorney in Chicago, who is getting a divorce. When His brother calls with the news that their mother has died, Hank returns to his childhood home to attend the funeral. Despite the brittle bond between Hank and the Judge, Hank must come to his fathers aid and defend him in court. Here, Hank discovers the truth behind the case, which binds together the dysfunctional family and reveals the struggles and secrecy of the family.


  • This movie starts very slowly -almost like an old man driving on a freeway. Then it picks up into a dramatic pace that tells the story well. An Oscar for Robert Duvall as his performance even outshines Robert Downey Jr. The trial is only a piece of this one.

    The focus is the Judge who has just lost his wife, and has a hidden illness that his family only finds out about after she is gone. The entire cast is excellent though Duvall’s performance and the focus on two characters make people like Billy Bob Thornton and the rest of the cast kind of fade in and out of the story, though their support is done well and welcome.

    The way the script is written, this is a good thing. The R Rating is strictly for language more than anything else despite some good looking and acting women hanging around.

    Duvall is a strict judge who it turns out is even stricter with his family. He has been sitting on the bench for 40 years and is stricken with the return of his second son Downey Jr) after his mom’s death.

    He sent away that son for being too wild during his youth. He went on to be a really good Defense Lawyer, top in his class. Now he gets dragged into defending his dad after a terrible accident or is it an accident? The script is not quite clear on this.

    I do have a challenge for anyone who sees this one- The Judge is portrayed as the all knowing elder in this. The drama between Duvall and the other cast members is great, so powerful that after I left the movie I thought of this- What is it the Judge does not realize or know at the end of the story about his family? I challenge anyone who sees this movie to figure out the answer.

  • Wasn’t expecting this to be as amazing as it was.

    Downey’s always good, but this was a Best Supporting Actor winner for Robert Duvall. I can’t tell you how good he was here. Vera was amazing in the few scenes she was in as well. The story line was impeccable. Everyone in the theater was mesmerized and stayed seated through the credits…just not able to get up after such an emotional ride.

    The story is about a father and son and their coming together. A tear jerker. Reminds you of your own life and the relationships in it. This would be a great movie to see with your loved one. A few bad words, but otherwise no violence or sex.

    It’s an absolute ‘don’t miss’.

  • Henry “Hank” Palmer is slick and savvy lawyer, and he knows it. He says he has a good life; “I have a rich job, a Ferrari in my driveway.” On the surface, Hank (Downey Jr.) has everything that he ever wanted. However, once the suit and tie come off, so does the masquerade of his “perfect life”. We see that he has a terrible marriage, his mother has just passed away, and he is loathing the fact that he has to return to see his brothers and father (Duvall), who is dead to him.
    Hank lands from his flight, and drives to the funeral for his mother. From the moment that he first lays eyes on his son, Joseph Palmer, the judge of the small town, is visually disgusted with him. Wanting to leave his father’s house, Hank goes into a diner and sees his ex-girlfriend from high school (Farmiga), and she reminds him of “old times”, and Hank realizes how much he used to mean to her. Later, as Hank goes into his father’s garage, he sees large paint scrapes on the grill and side, and soon the judge has been taken down to the police station on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter. Not long after, the former judge is the defendant, and the son that was once his biggest disappointment is sitting next to him as his lawyer.

    I saw this movie at the movie theater this afternoon, and it is one of the best movies that I’ve seen in theaters in a while. Both Duvall and Downey Jr. are clicking on all cylinders, and they take their characters into a depth that elevates the film to higher levels. It was great to see RDJ in a role that doesn’t include an Iron Man suit, and he really showed of his acting chops in this type of role. For decades, Robert Duvall has embodied some fantastic characters, and this performance is no different.
    Before I went to see the film, I peeked at Rotten Tomatoes to see what I was getting into, and every negative review seemed to repeat the same criticism: too many clichés, and a dumpy script. While the “big-shot returns to his home roots” story has worn script pages thin over the years, this film adds much deeper character development and stellar performances, and that is what makes it stand out. In terms of the script, I found the dialogue to be very witty and funny, which definitely helped lighten up the atmosphere in periods of tenseness. Putting the occasional language and subtly sexual jokes to the side, The Judge is a great film, and it reminds us all about the importance of keeping your family close.

    The ending kind of threw me (you’ll see), and it somewhat killed some feelings. Also, it does lull at multiple times.

  • The Judge 6/10: When I first saw the trailer for The Judge, I thought “I have seen this kind of movie before. Why should I see it again?” I decided to see it for the same reason most people ended up seeing it, because of Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall. They were the difference makers in this film. Without them, The Judge would have been a total failure. The only thing getting the audience past the cliches and generic plot we have all seen before is the amazing performances by Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall.

    The fire and ice relationship between the father and son is nothing new and I can probably recall five movies in the past two years that have the same aspect in their movies. Luckily, its the first time they did it with these actors. Also the director goes way over the top when it comes to the subliminal messages it uses. For example, when the sun comes out, everything is resolved, but during a tornado, everything is chaotic. This technique is commonly used, so I cannot blame the director too much.

    If you have not gotten a feel of my opinion for the plot yet, I nicely say “it could have been better.” Do not get me wrong, just because it is cliched and predictable plot does not mean it is not enjoyable. I did enjoy The Judge. Still, it could have been better. The reason I enjoyed the film was almost entirely because of acting, but I also appreciated the shots. For this particular film, I seem to notice the high quality of cinematography. The cinematograph really gave the audience a realistic view of how everything should look. Now we come to the acting. I firmly believe that no one could have done a better job than Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall.

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  • Robert Downey Jr returns to his first dramatic acting role since “The Soloist” in this film where he plays an arrogant, sharp tongued lawyer called back in the town that he hates to attend his mother’s funeral. His sour relationship with his judge father (Robert Duvall) is further complicated when he is arrested for murder, and he eventually becomes his lawyer to defend him.

    Throughout the film, both the evidence on Hank Sr, and the tensions between father and son rise up. The acting from both Downey and Duvall is absolutely superb, and the courtroom scenes are a perfect thriller-esque outcome.

    Downey’s character Hank talks fast and talks people down a lot, which made it hard for me to sympathize with him at first. The judge father, a recovering alcoholic, has a very firm attitude towards all three of his sons, which explains the tough exterior for Hank and his brothers. Yet there is immense vulnerability in all of them that eventually comes out during the heated moments.

    If you want a good family drama to watch, look no further than this one.

  • Rating: ☆☆
    This film is not recommended.

    There is a scene in The Judge where the two characters, a father and son, walk in different directions from each other. That serves as a heavy-handed metaphor for their stormy relationship (and that’s not even counting a real storm later in this film either). That moment sums up this overstuffed film whose many subplots go in all sorts of different directions.The filmmaker, David Dobkin, is addled with a weak screenplay that can’t seem to make up its mind whether it wants to be a courtroom drama or a family melodrama about a dysfunctional Midwest clan.

    The main plot of the film seems to be a) a slick city lawyer named Hank (Robert Downey) returns home to an ailing and distant father, Judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall) who b) may have killed a man during a hit and run accident. Those two stories never gel. Add to that, c) a romantic entanglement with a former girl left behind with a past secret, d) an unhappy brother who never amounted to much, d) a low-functioning younger brother who is obsessed with his camera and e) another ambitious lawyer out to win his case against Hank’s father. Neither do all this other plot points come together well.

    What does work is the fine acting by the Roberts. Downey takes on a serious acting role, a nice change of pace from his action hero work, and reminds moviegoers how skillful an actor he can be. Of course, playing opposite an acting legend like Mr. DuVall does up the game. Duvall reprises his Great Santini character as the dominating father figure, but he excels in his quieter scenes as a man coming to terms with his own morality. Although the film cannot stay clear of clichés, their scenes together still resonate with tension.

    The other actors are left with underdeveloped characters to play. Vincent D’Onofrio, Vera Farmiga, Jeremy Strong, Dax Shepard, and Billy Bob Thornton bring their A game to their film roles.

    The problem with The Judge is its troublesome screenplay by Nick Schenk and Bill Dubuque that constantly rambles from one subplot to the next and never builds to a satisfying conclusion. The family drama is predictable fare and the courtroom case is fairly predictable also. David Dobkin’s direction keeps everything moving but with nowhere to actually go. So what we are left with is a well acted film in search of a better script.

    I rule that less would have been more in the case of The Judge. GRADE: C+

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  • “The law is the only thing capable of making people equal”

    Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) is a shrewd and successful lawyer with a smooth tongue. A chatterbox that overwhelms you with its arguments and you can’t get in a word edgeways. He uses arguments and counter-arguments in such a natural way, as if he’s ordering something to eat at a sandwich bar. Therefore for some he’s an insufferable person who does not mince his words. My favorite scene is the confrontation with some drunk local figures in a local bar where he and his two brothers Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio) and Dale (Jeremy Strong) chat about lost times. The way he gives those windbags tit for tat and knows how to silence them, is a perfect representation of who the person Hank Palmer is. This piece reminded me a bit of Matt Damon in “Good Will Hunting” who puts a group of university students in their place. Slyly I enjoy those moments. I know, schadenfreude is not a nice virtue.

    Because of family circumstances, Hank must return to his hometown which he turned his back on years ago. The funeral of his mother confronts him with his past. There are his brother Glen, who once stood at the beginning of a promising career as a professional baseball player, and his other mentally handicapped younger brother Dale, who has a passion for filming and usually carries a camera to capture all kinds of scenes. And then there’s his father Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall) who’s invariably called “Judge” by everyone. A bitter man who can look back at an impressive career as a judge in the town of Carlinville and who’s more concerned with his legacy as a righteous judge than his current miserable situation. The next day after the three brothers went on a night out, Mark Blackwell is found dead and his blood is found on the grill of Judge’s car. Hank’s father can’t remember anything and pleads not guilty. Were it not, that years ago he made the error to give this Mark Blackwell a light imprisonment who after being released drowned a 16-year-old girl, there probably still would be some doubt. But this fact does give Judge a decisive motive for murder with hit and run.

    “The Judge” is not a typical courtroom drama as we’ve seen frequently. It’s a subtle made family drama with the legal dispute as a side issue and the emphasis on the family joust. Unresolved resentment and mistakes made in the past, played an important role. The whole is explained in detail in a brilliant and subtle way and time has been taken to outline the whole family situation, based on conversations and fragments filmed by Dale. And despite the significant playing time of 140 minutes, you won’t get the feeling that you have to drag yourself through it. An intriguing and fascinating family sketch that sometimes tends to become melodramatic (culminating in the confrontation in the basement during a suddenly emerging tornado).

    It was to be expected that the confrontation between Downey Jr. and Duvall would guarantee some acting from the top shelf. A brilliant performance by Duvall as the stubborn paterfamilias, who nevertheless expresses some human feelings as his granddaughter comes to visit (incidentally also an admirable role played by Emma Tremblay). Downey can be arrogant. He demonstrated this already in “Iron Man”. The difference is that this bugged me in “Iron Man”, whereas it fits perfectly here. And definitely worth mentioning are the two emotional (and sometimes funny) renditions of D’Onofrio and Strong. Vera Farmiga (“The Conjuring”), as the ex-girlfriend of Hank, we see trotting along and merely serves as a distraction of the clash of arms between the two Palmer-clan members.

    “The Judge” is a pleasure to watch when it comes to the acting, but ultimately it’s still just a typical family drama with a court case as a side topic. For the rest, it’s crammed with every imaginable emotive subject such as death, illness and an unwavering feud. The priority is the father-son relationship with some story-lines wrapped around it. Ultimately these stories have nothing to do with the core of the matter and only serve to incorporate frequent used cliches so it’s guaranteed you’ll use a handkerchief to wipe away a tear.

  • Taking place in Southern Indiana (you can tell because the landscape is full of foothills) and directed by a guy who is known chiefly for making comedies, The Judge is a long yet briskly paced courtroom drama. The overall plot concerns a hot shot Chicago lawyer who must defend his own father (a longtime judge presiding in a small town via the Hoosier state) against a stone cold murder charge. This mean-spirited, resentful (you could throw in spiteful too) lawyer flies into town initially to go to his mother’s funeral. He ends up staying longer than needed when his father’s dim-witted counsel can’t handle the intensity of the case, a case involving a death by hit-and-run. Robert Downey Jr. plays the big city attorney (Henry “Hank” Palmer) while the legendary Robert Duvall plays his tough as nails, not to mention bullheaded judge father (Joseph Palmer).

    As an originally conceived film with a title that averts to something John Grisham would approve of, The Judge didn’t really remind me of any other dramas except for its mild sentiment towards certain clichés. You know, the aspects of a rich, well-off lad who comes back to his small hometown after he abandons his family and leaves behind the high school sweetheart that he once loved. And oh yeah, you can also throw in the cranky old timer who wasn’t a good father and may or may not be a recovering alcoholic (a la 1982’s The Verdict). No matter though. In essence, this is an absorbing, chaotic, messy, yet powerfully realized downer of a movie. It’s depressing in its dysfunctional family dynamic and its ending is clearly anti-Hollywood (really not what you’d except). However, there is never a dull moment and at roughly two hours and twenty plus minutes, there’s a lot of movie in this movie. You get what you paid for and then some.

    The acting is top drawer, all down the line. Downey Jr. and Duvall have only been in the same flick one other time (1998’s The Gingerbread Man) and clearly don’t look related. But they work well together. Their performances in the lead roles hit you like a ton of bricks. Watching them spar in scene after gut wrenching scene, you feel as if they were actually bear and cub in real life. It’s truly intense. And I gotta admit, Robert Downey Jr.’s “Hank” was tough to put up with for the majority of the running time. There’s a lot of pent up anger there. There’s also lots of moodiness, regret, and narcissism going on. Downey Jr. with his fast talking mannerisms and blatant Tony Starkness (you know, his character from Iron Man), looks like he’s going to a bad place with this character. You feel like he could just explode at any minute. His performance is no doubt brilliant but gee-whiz, he could have possibly lightened up a bit. As for the rest of cast, they are solid especially Billy Bob Thornton exuding a sort of menacing cool. He plays the prosecutor in Duvall’s character’s case who is bent on justice (and the prospect of issuing a murder one charge to boot). Finally, we have Vera Farmiga effectively channeling the token, long lost love interest and Vincent D’Onofrio riffing off his The Break Up role by playing “Hank’s” otherwise nervous older brother (Glen Palmer). Oh and by the way, did I mention the hard R language these characters carry off with totally relentless aplomb? This ain’t no People’s Court. This is indeed 12 Angry Men (and you can maybe count some woman too).

    In conclusion, The Judge is pretty meaty entertainment despite a few hiccups along the way. I mean I could have done without a couple of scenes involving projectile vomiting and the sight of runny poop coming out of an 80 plus year old man (note to director David Dobkin: you’re not making The Change-Up here. You’re making a full-fledged, human drama). Also, I couldn’t figure out why Downey Jr.’s “Hank” stayed at his father’s storage room (at the Harper family home) during the opening funeral. I mean initially they hated each other, right? So I’m thinking that “Hank” could have at least found a hotel room (even in the small, fictitious hick town of Carlinville, Indiana). Regardless, this early fall release gets a recommendation from me. If you decide to take in a viewing, remind yourself that this film is not just a farce about the fate of a dying man through a handful of jurors. Think of what’s on screen as a rekindling of fathers and sons by which the characters have extremely strong personalities and for the most part, are just too bad for each other. My final verdict on The Judge: Guilty, as in you’re guilty if you don’t check it out at a theater near you.

    Rating: 3 out of 4 stars

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