Unpleasant Ride With Good Actors

The Judge

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


            If a movie runs past the ideal one hour and fifty minutes, there better be a good reason. At two hours twenty, The Judge tests our patience. Itís overlong with a slew of faults and a deep need for a good editor. Still, and undeniably, it will probably hold your attention.
            Designed as a complex duet for Robert Downey Jr and Robert Duvall, the story works its way through the reluctant reunion of a father and son after a long estrangement. Duvall and Downey do their usual good work with roles as father, Judge Joseph Palmer, and son, lawyer Hank Palmer.
            Hank is the big shot Chicago lawyer who returns to his hometown of Carlinville, Indiana for his motherís funeral. For a lifetime of legimitate reasons that will unfold, father and son canít stand each other and neither wins our immediate sympathy. Hank is arrogant and cold, and his father is a volatile blend of restraint and explosion.
            A strong series of initial scenes introduces us to the family at the funeral. Brother Glen (Vincent DíOnofrio) is a big, quiet former athlete who stays out of the family fight and tends carefully to his mentally limited brother, Dale (Jeremy Strong in a quiet, effective performance). Samantha Powell (Vera Farmiga) is an old flame from Hankís youth, now a strong woman who loves where she lives.
            Before long, Judge Palmer reveals a hot, sometimes violent, temper that is easily triggered, especially by son Hank who doesnít want to be there, especially with the father he resents. When the judge drives to the corner store for eggs, he sideswipes and kills a man on a bicycle. Was it an accident or a deliberate act of hate? That is the underlying question in the murder trial of Judge Joseph Palmer whose defense is led by is his ever resourceful son Hank. Prosecutor Dickham (Billy Bob Thornton) says of Hank that he is ďa bully with a big bag of tricks.Ē Heís right.
            Weaknesses: an unpleasant and excessively long scene of the judge dealing with vomit and diarrhea in the shower; a menís room squirt episode by Downey; a silly scene of a nervous lawyer vomiting next to the courthouse steps (repeated three times lest we miss the humor); a sentimentalized relationship between a mean old man who becomes implausibly sweet with his granddaughter. This drivel is topped by an extended courtroom scene designed as a backdrop for an eruption of pyrotechnics between father and son while the presiding judge and jury look on in silence like spectators at a sporting event. .
            Strengths: formidable portrayals of unpleasant men by Duvall, Downey, and Thornton Ė and one very appealing one by Vera Farmiga who offers the only hope of light at the end of this dark tunnel. Did I forget to say that in spite of the negatives, I never lost interest in the characters? Given these actors, who can resist wondering what theyíll do next?


Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : The Judge
Distributor : Warner Bros.
Running Time : 2:21
Word Count : 497
Rating : R

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