‘The Judge’ Review: Robert Downey Jr. Is Masterful
Downey Jr. is a master at playing a brilliant bad boy with the most complicated and dysfunctional of estranged father/son relationships. That’s the dynamic at the center of the Iron Man science fiction high action films.
Now strangely, Downey Jr. stars in another richly gripping film, The Judge, which features a destructive relationship between a powerful, morally unbendable father (Robert Duvall), and his equally strong-willed and successful so, who for some unknown reason has been rejected by his father.
Downey Jr. plays Hank Palmer, who we meet in a slick Chicago bathroom ,as he prepares to defend a sleazy, but wealthy client, and he is all confidence and ego. Hank, we learn, graduated first in his North Western law school class, and he’s so sure of himself and his courtroom skills that he literally doesn’t care if he pisses off or actually on the opposing attorney, in that bathroom.
Hank seemingly has it all — wealth from his successful law practice, designer suits, a fancy car, a big house, an adorable daughter and a beautiful wife with “the hard butt” of a high school cheerleader. But all is not as it seems, and Hank’s perfect world begins to come undone when he receives a shocking phone call in court: his beloved mother has died.
Hank must travel home — for the first time in many, many years — to the small Indiana town of Carlinville, where he was born and raised.
Inside Hank’s Complicated Relationship With The Judge
Hank’s father, Judge Joseph Palmer, known by all as, The Judge, isn’t dead. But he’s been dead to Hank for decades. As we watch for the next two hours, the mystery of why The Judge rejected his middle son slowly is unraveled.
It’s a heartbreaking tale and familiar territory: the prodigal son finally returns home. But in The Judge, the emotional layers and family truths only get revealed after a strange new tragedy strikes.
The outstanding citizen Judge Palmer is not who he seems. He is charged with first degree murder for mowing down with his car, the violent lowlife Mark Blackwell, who murdered his 16 year-old girlfriend twenty years ago and was locked up until recently, by The Judge.
The problem is that The Judge has no memory of hitting Blackwell with his car, or so he says. The other problem is that he seems intent on doing everything possible to land himself in jail for the rest of his life, from hiring an inept local defense attorney to insisting that he take the stand in his own defense.
Of course, Hank, who is all about winning every case he ever had, no matter how guilty the defendant, can’t stand to watch his father’s case be lost. Especially after a top calibre attorney (Billy Bob Thorton) is brought in to prosecute the case.
Hank Steps In To Defend His Father
This is where the father and son have to start on the long forgiveness process. And they both have a lot to forgive.
While the complicated Downey Jr./Duvall relationship is at the heart of the film, the journey back to Carlinville also opens up key other doors which should never have been locked up in Hank’s past. He reconnects with his still beautiful and still single serious high school girlfriend, Samantha (Vera Farmiga), who he had abruptly abandoned. Is he the father of her beautiful, law school bound daughter, Carla (Leighton Meester)?
And then there are his two brothers, who had been his best friends, before being dumped behind as well.
All the love that Hank has had pent up for his “left behinds” is lavished on his smart, quirky seven year-old daughter. So you know that there’s a loving person still buried inside Hank’s cocky, fast-talking exterior.
Will he save his father from prison? Will he and The Judge finally admit that they love and forgive each other? Will he find true love with his ex love? Will he return to his fancy Chicago world and law office unchanged or reborn? Will Hank Palmer become a better man?
These are answers that you will want to have as you watch The Judge. Don’t miss out two magnetic Roberts.
— Bonnie Fuller
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