From the creative team that brought you comedies such as "The Wedding Crashers", and Team Downey Production comes "The Judge". Robert Downey Jr, best know for his role as Tony Stark in the Ironman movies and Sherlock Holmes, returns to his roots, playing a character driven role. Robert has many fans now due to his roles in big blockbusters. However, he has always been, and will probably continue to be first and foremost a dramatic actor (i.e Chaplin, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang). This is also the first movie produced by Robert's production company, of whom he created with his wife, Susan Downey. I had the privilege of attending a pre-screening of this movie in September, but decided against writing a full review so as to not spoil the movie for other fans who have been anticipating the movie since it was announced. The movie opened nationwide on the 10th of October. For those of you who have yet to have seen it, read no further as this review contains plot spoilers!
Robert plays Hank Palmer, a high flying legal eagle from Chicago who seems to have everything going for him. He is extremely good at what he does, and what he does is not always right! He will represents anyone for the money, even if the person is guilty. This of course does not go down well with his dad, Judge Joe Palmer (Robert Duvall), who presides over the small town of Carlinville, Indiana. During one of his court cases, Hank received a phone call informing him that his mother has passed away. So begins his long trip back to his roots (pun intended!) and his probable salvation. Apparently things are not as they seem. Hank is in the middle of an ugly divorce with his wife.
On his return, he is reunited with his elder brother, an ex MVP baseball player Glen (Vincent D'Onofrio) and his younger brother, Dale (Jeremy Strong), who is mentally challenged and documents everything with his vintage super 8mm. He will also have to face his estranged father once again. Old feelings are stirred up at the wake and Hank once again prepares to leave. One morning he goes in to fix the garage door his bumps when he discovers blood on the fender of his dad's old car. Police come a knocking and all too soon, honorable Judge Palmer is facing murder charges for a man he one convicted, but let off with a light sentence. This man would later go on to kill the girl he was convicted for. Hank decides to stay and defend his father after seeing that Judge Joe is too honorable to make the right decision to clear his name. He hires a bumbling small town lawyer (Dax Shepard) who is so nervous, he throws up everytime he is about to attend a hearing. To make matters worse, the other party hires Hank's rival Dwight Dickham, played to the hilt by Billy Bob Thornton. His Dwight is a scary lawyer and intimidates his opponents with a metal steel cup that retracts!
There are twist and turns to the movie and we discover that Judge Palmer has lapses in the memory from a therapy he is receiving for cancer. Hank tries to clear his dad's name with this knowledge in hand and in the process rediscovers himself, his old life in a small town where he was reckless growing up and destroyed his elder brother's career in professional baseball, when he crashes the car they are in. He also reacquaints himself with his old flame Samantha, played superbly by Vera Farmiga, and discovers he might have a daughter, Carla (Leighton Meester) whom he made out with!
This movie has many things going for it. While the "defend your honor" thing has been done to bits, and there are way too many courtroom drama's on TV and in the movies, this story grounds itself in that it explores the intricate relationship between one man and his father. There are some very powerful scenes in the movie that will cause you to reflect back on your own relationships with you parents, especially if things haven't been a bed of roses. The scenes that particularly stood out for me was the bathroom scene depicting a very sick and frail Judge Palmer, who refuses the help of his prodigal son Hank. This scene is also not for the faint of heart as it is very visceral and portrays life as it is, showing how an old and frail person loses control of his bodily functions. That being said, director David Dobkin's somehow managed to to make us smile by the end of the scene when Hank washes his dad up.
Yet another scene which stood out was the scene when Judge Palmer gets mad and goes flying out of the bombshelter under the house in the middle of a tornado (literally a metaphor for their stormy relationship!), with Hank running after him. They have a showdown in the kitchen as the wind whips around them exchanging verbal blows. Both scenes that would forever be etched in your memory. I would not be surprised if both Robert's receive nods for their roles in this movie!
If there is any negatives about this movie, it would have to be the running time of 2 hours and 21 minutes. Also the tone and pacing of the movie was a little choppy, but overall a great movie. Critics seem to somehow not like it (so what is new here!) I full recommend this movie. It tugs at the heartstrings and if you like me love vintage Robert in a human driven drama go see it NOW. Just remember to bring some Kleenex as it is an emotional ride!