Thursday, February 12, 2015

Movie with Abe: The Judge

The Judge
Directed by David Dobkin
Released October 10, 2014

Some movies are all about a performance. In fact, the only reason I watched this film when it was released on DVD, after avoiding it in theaters since it didn’t appeal to me at all, was because actor Robert Duvall received an Oscar nomination for his supporting performance. That billing isn’t entirely accurate since the title of the film refers to his character, but there’s no question that, despite the charisma of one Robert Downey, Jr., Duvall owns this film. That said, it’s hardly his best performance, and not a terribly deserving reason to see the film.

The plot of “The Judge” is serious, but it gets off to a decidedly and inappropriately comical start, as pretentious, manipulative lawyer Hank Palmer (Downey) urinates on opposing counsel when he corners him in the bathroom, demonstrating just how much he is willing to concede and negotiate. The trial doesn’t get far when Hank gets a call telling him that his mother has died, which prompts his exodus from the big city and his return to his home state of Indiana for the funeral. A tempestuous relationship with his disapproving father, local judge Joseph Palmer (Duvall), is put to the test when Joseph is arrested for murder.

What ensues is an extremely predictable story of growth and reconnection for all members of the Palmer family, which also includes Hank’s two brothers, Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio) and Dale (Jeremy Strong). Coming home from the big city permits Hank the opportunity to appreciate the benefits of a small, tight-knit community, particularly the nostalgic rekindling of a romance with his high school sweetheart, Samantha (Vera Farmiga). The local lawyer (Dax Shepard) hired by his father proves to be entirely ineffective, and this trip to Indiana is as much about Hank storming in with his big-city attitude as it is about the small town changing him.

Downey is in full Downey mode, delivering a slight variation of the same performance he’s been giving for the past five or ten years. This does not rank as one of his most memorable or more effortful turns. At 83, Duvall commands the screen whenever he is on it, with his quiet, assertive growl. Forty-three years after earning his first Oscar nomination for “The Godfather,” Duvall is still a great actor, but this isn’t his best work. Farmiga and Leighton Meester, as Samantha’s daughter, blend perfectly into the supporting cast, infusing sweetness and heart where there isn’t much to be found in this ensemble. This film isn’t exactly a thriller, and it ends up being nothing more than an average courtroom drama.


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