Duvall and Downey Jr. shine in The Judge

By: Adam Kelly | The Duquesne Duke

Crime and courtroom dramas are everywhere in Hollywood these days. It seems like the most popular television shows and movies center around skilled detectives or hotshot lawyers.

The Judge fits into this mold. Robert Downey Jr. plays a quick-witted defense lawyer and son of Robert Duvall, who stars as a revered judge in a small Indiana town on trial for murder.

The plot gives the crime drama genre a unique twist, adding in elements of family and personal struggle in Downey’s character, Hank Palmer.

The film starts with Hank, who now lives in a lavish mansion in Chicago, returning to his small-town Indiana home for his mother’s funeral. When he gets there, his brothers Glen and Dale greet him warmly. His father (Duvall) gives Downey nothing more than a handshake with minimal eye contact, hinting towards their tumultuous relationship.

It also becomes obvious from the beginning that Judge Palmer is looked upon with high esteem in the town and his presence demands respect. Even Hank, along with his brothers, refers to their father as “Judge” instead of more conventional names like “Dad” or “Pop.”

Judge Joe Palmer is now on trial for murder and this is a revelation that shakes the whole town. His entertainingly incompetent defense attorney (played by Dax Shepard) forces the “Judge” to put his emotionally distant son on his defense team.

In between intense courtroom scenes and family shouting matches, The Judge has some truly endearing moments. There is an emotional scene in the middle of the film in which Hank and his brothers are watching old home movies. This is accompanied by the subtle acoustics of indie artist Bon Iver’s “Holocene,” which plays on the audience’s emotions. This song is used both here and at the end of the movie when Hank is reflecting on all that has happened.

With big Hollywood names like Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall, the acting performances did not disappoint. The tension that existed between Downey and Duvall’s characters felt incredibly real and the supporting actors did their part in making this movie memorable as well.

Billy Bob Thornton plays an intimidating prosecutor and Vera Farmiga (The Conjuring, The Departed) plays a strong-willed ex-love interest of Downey’s character.

Perhaps the biggest issue in this movie is the lack of creativity in the development of the main characters. Downey’s smooth talking and quick wit are characteristics nearly identical to his role as Tony Stark in the Iron Man series. Duvall is the stern authority figure that he’s played in just about every role since his breakout performance as Tom Hagen in The Godfather series.
The typecasting of the two central characters would be more of an issue if it weren’t so entertaining. Both actors are very versatile, but there’s a reason they play the same type of character in their most popular movies. Seeing Downey being an arrogant socialite and Duvall being a hard-ass is what draws people to the theater.

The Judge is a solid film, albeit a few clichéd concepts. But if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. True Detective, Law & Order: SVU and countless other similar television shows are proving that the formula of a crime drama is not only maintaining a sense of entertainment for fans, but can also deliver an effective backstory. Score- 7.5/10

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