The Judge (Warner Bros., R)

judge 75Even though most of the characters reveal some sort of twisted past or other, they’re all astonishingly easy to connect with, and most scenes luckily end up more humorous than awkward.

 

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I do not remember the last time I had such mixed feelings about a film, after seeing David Dobkin’s (Wedding Crashers) new drama. To be honest, I expected it to be more of a serious, slow-paced, deep-dialogue kind of courtroom drama, but to my brief disappointment right as the movie opened, I realized I was totally wrong. Nevertheless, it turned out to be pretty entertaining, and I somehow spent most of the 141-minute runtime hypnotized by the screen, both laughing and crying.

As much as I try, I can’t exactly point a finger at what specifically did the trick, but the noteworthy cast probably had something to do with it: Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong, Dax Shephard, Bill Bob Thornton, Leighton Meester, and of course the marvelous Robert Downey Jr., without whom the movie would not have worked at all. He effortlessly plays the conscienceless, hotshot lawyer Hank Palmer, who appears to have a particularly good experience with guilty clients: “The innocent can’t afford me.” When he gets an unexpected phone call, naturally in the middle of an important trial, informing him about his mother’s death, he drops everything (even his malfunctioning marriage and preschool-aged daughter) and immediately flies back to his hometown in Indiana to try to reconnect with his estranged family. Even though most of the characters reveal some sort of twisted past or other, they’re all astonishingly easy to connect with, and most scenes luckily end up more humorous than awkward.

Completely giving up on his family relationships, Palmer doesn’t manage to flee back to Chicago on the first flight out like he planned, before his father (Duvall), the town’s acclaimed judge, gets accused of murder. Focusing on the complex father-son story, things don’t flow very easily as Judge Palmer turns out to be even more stubborn and hard to deal with than his son… and doesn’t exactly make the best client either. Palmer’s two brothers remain: a mentally challenged Dale (Strong), who is pre-occupied with an 8mm film camera (and ends up showing us some of the much-needed details to piece the family’s tale together), and an overweight Glen (D’Onofrio), who does not, sadly, appear on screen enough, but sources the whole father-son dispute. The judge blames Palmer for ending his brother’s professional baseball career in an unfortunate car accident twenty years ago. And as always, there has to be a super-successful (yet still single) high school sweetheart (Farmiga) who never truly got over the lawyer’s former, goodbye-less departure.

Even though The Judge is not a new concept at all, it generally doesn’t fail to unite with its audience. If all you are looking for can be satisfied with killing two-and-a-half hours by watching Robert Downey Jr. perform his magic, go for it! If you crave a deep, twisted drama, urging you to reason and think, look elsewhere. | Lea Vrábelová

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