The Judge

Movie:  The Judge

Rating:  4 1/2 Stars (Out of 5)

Review:   Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) is a big city shark in the courtroom.  He is a highly paid criminal defense attorney with the ability to win almost any case, regardless of how guilty a scumbag defendant might be.  He is living the high life with a beautiful trophy wife, gorgeous house in the affluent suburbs, and a darling 8 year old daughter Lauren (Emma Tremblay) that he adores.  Life is good.  Until he gets the fateful phone call of his mother’s passing.

Hank heads back to Carlinville, Indiana, where he grew up to attend the funeral.  He hasn’t been back in many years for several reasons, most of them revolving around his fearsome father, the Honorable Judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall).  There is a major rift between Hank and his father that time has not diminished.  Hank stays at the family home with his older brother Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio), and his mentally challenged younger brother Dale (Jeremy Strong).  Things are tense at home, but Hank enjoys seeing some old friends and old flame Samantha (Vera Famiga).  Nevertheless, after a few days Hank is off to the airport to resume his life when he learns Judge Palmer has been arrested for murder, and is being defended by a hapless local lawyer C.P. Kennedy (Dax Shepard).

This movie is good; really good.  It works on a number of levels.  There is the legal case that slowly develops throughout the movie, with nuggets of information that slowly emerge to keep the audience on their toes as to what to believe.  I would put the film up there with legal classics such as Paul Newman’s The Verdict, and Jimmy Stewart’s Anatomy of a Murder.  Then there is the human element of the movie, which is constantly at play with Hank Palmer and his relationships within the family, picking at old wounds, and of course his emotional ties with an old flame are revisited.  Real life is complicated, and sometimes justice is also hard to define.  This movie does a brilliant job in exploring both of those avenues.

Actors To Watch:  So many great acting jobs in this film!  I don’t think it is going out on a limb to predict a Best Actor nomination for Robert Downey Jr., and a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Duvall.  Billy Bob Thornton and Ken Howard have small but key roles where they excel.  I was impressed by Jeremy Strong’s portrayal of Hank’s younger brother Glen, and young Emma Tremblay shined as Downey’s daughter.

What The….Huh?:    Dale Palmer has a hobby of filming things.  There is a scene where no one thought Judge Palmer played chess until Dale showed the film.  But as far as I could tell, the significance was never made clear later in the movie.  Did I miss something?  Was there a deleted scene?  Beats me!

Dialogue Nuggets:  “Imagine a far away place, Hank, where people value your opinion.”

Hank:  “Innocent people can’t afford me.”

“You’re a civil servant in a corn-bang corner of Indiana!”

“I am the unplanned but happy result of a Wabash River float trip.”

Jury selection:  “Anyone who has seen a Sasquatch, those are our people.”

“You’re a shined up wooden nickel, Mr. Palmer, with a bogus bag of tricks.”

“We all waited for you to come home.  Quietly.  But you never came.”

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