Every once in a while, it’s good to get a courtroom movie. “Inherit the Wind” and “My Cousin Vinny” are exceptional examples of movie like this. The thrill of two sides, determining the fate of someone’s future, is exciting to watch. 

One little detail and the whole case shifts on a dime. But the case is only interesting to watch, if the characters themselves have a unique personality. In a pairing that I never saw coming, Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall are great as father and son in “The Judge.”

When he gets a call regarding his mother’s demise, hot-shot city lawyer Hank Palmer [Robert Downey Jr.] puts everything aside and heads back home to Carlinville, Indiana.

The only problem is that his estranged father and judge Joseph Palmer [Robert Duvall] don’t get along with each other. Just when Hank is about to leave town, something happens that may change his entire dynamic with his father. A body is found on the road and Joseph’s car has traces of blood on it. Once they decide to put their differences aside, Hank and Joseph work together to get out of their mess.

While the trailer didn’t show me anything new, I knew that the star power of Downey and Duvall were enough to pull me in. What was unexpected, was the lack of courtroom scenes. I thought that most of the running time would be spent in the courtroom.

Phil Bergeron / Graphic Design Editor

Phil Bergeron / Graphic Design Editor

When people go to see “The Judge,” keep in mind that this a family drama first and foremost. There are some great courtroom arguments, but Downey is no Atticus Finch.

To make up for that, Robert Downey Jr. fills the screen with charm. After the first ten minutes, he drops the Tony Stark persona and finds a character of his own to embody. When he has some confrontations with Robert Duvall, it’s easy to see that he has some insecurities about himself.

In the end, all he tries to do, is grow an attachment with his father, even if Joseph isn’t up to it. He still has some demons to work out with Robert Duvall inside and outside the courtroom. Just like Joseph, Hank isn’t a perfect soul and only through the power of family, can he move on from the dark secrets of the past. All this drama only enhances Downey’s performance since he is given so much to work with. But can the same thing be applied for Robert Duvall?

Even though Boo Radley has gotten older, he hasn’t lost the touch that made him a household name to begin with. Just like Clint Eastwood, Robert Duvall is taking roles that cater to his age and state of health. In this instance, it makes sense.

Duvall plays an aging judge that has one night coming back to haunt him. Of course, he’s stubborn when it comes to working with his son. But as soon as both perspectives come to light, the troubled past suddenly makes more sense.

Aside from the clashing of these two actors, “The Judge” build it’s foundation on some of the supporting characters. Vincent D’onofrio is good, but his character lacks the presence that he should have. His story comes to play later, but he’s not allowed to do anything with it.

Then you have the lovely and talented Vera Farmiga as one of Hank’s former high-school girlfriends.

I’ve yet to see her give a truly terrible performance and this film is no exception. Her character is likable and fun to watch, but since this story doesn’t add to the main conflict, it feels unnecessary. “The Judge” clocks in at nearly two-and-a-half hours and subplots like this,only drag out the running time. With certain films, a longer running time can help the story develop and breathe without feeling forced or rushed. At least twenty minutes of unnecessary subplots could have been cut out entirely. Also, while the emotions flowing between Downey and Duvall are genuine, there are some scenes that reach melodramatic territory.

Other than that, “The Judge” is an actor’s piece through and through.  Most people paid for a ticket to see the two leading performances and they don’t disappoint. Both Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall are treasures in their own right and this film carries on their legacy as character actors.

 

Rating: B

Matt Bilodeau can be contacted at mbilodeau@keene-equinox.com

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