Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall star as father and son in THE JUDGE. But their fine performances aren't enough to save it.
Essentially, the film is a cliched drama about an aging father and a middle aged son who have no use for each other. The dad is a small town judge; the son is a big city lawyer.
The acting is top notch, but the story is entirely predictable with too many characters, too many subplots, and way too much sentimentality.
Prosecutor: How does it feel knowing every person you represent is guilty?
Hank Palmer (Downey): It's fine. Innocent people can't afford me.
Downey plays Hank Palmer, a Chicago lawyer whose mother's death forces him to return to the small town family he hasn't visited in years, because he and his father can barely stand the sight of each other.
At the funeral the judge (played by Duvall) shakes his son's hand without really looking at him. “Thanks for coming,” the judge says. “I'm sure your mother would have appreciated it.” And then he turns away.
We learn that the judge is tough but fair and that he's an ailing old man who's been on the bench for 42 years. But now, after 30 years of abstinence, he starts drinking which in the movies is always a big signal that something bad is going to happen.
The local sheriff on calls Hank with bad news about a fatal hit and run case: “Forensics found traces of blood on your dad's car. It matches the victim.” And there's no doubt that the judge was behind the wheel.
Judge: If the blood matches and I have no reason to doubt it does, then I must have clipped him. I don't remember any of that.
Hank: The “I don't remember what happened” defense doesn't fly with a corpse.
I wish the movie had stuck to this straightforward scenario. But there's so much more, including an older brother who could've been a baseball star if it were not for a car wreck caused by Hank, a mentally challenged younger brother, and Hank's high school girl friend who just happens to be unattached all these years later.
The girl friend Samantha (played by Vera Farmiga): You are simultaneously the most selfish and the most generous person I know. I loved you then; I love you now.
Only in movies will you ever hear a woman talk like that.
But to be fair there are also some powerful, realistic confrontations.
Hank: You never came to my law school graduation.
Judge: I put a roof over your head, money in your pocket, clothes on your back, food in your mouth. Who paid for that college education? Your mother?
THE JUDGE is all over the place, a bit of a mess in spite of its good intentions and the fine acting of its co-stars.
Terry Hunter, Hawaii News Now. firstname.lastname@example.org