The Judge is a good family drama about the rebel of the family returning to help his overbearing father in his moment of need. If there is a fault, the film is too dense with several story threads. It isn’t sure what story to tell so it feels padded.
Hank Palmer, played by Robert Downey Jr., is hot shot defense attorney in Chicago when he gets a phone call that his mother has died. He travels back to the small town in Indiana where he grew up and tries to remain civil when he gets together with his overbearing father, Joseph, played by Robert Duvall, who happens to be a county judge. Hank had not been home in years due to a falling out with the Judge.
The remaining Palmer family includes Glen, played by Vincent D’Onofrio, and Dale, played by Jeremy Strong. Glen is the older brother who stayed home after his budding baseball career was cut short. He owns a tire store now. Dale is mentally challenged and has a fascination with 8mm film making so he is seen using a camera most of the time much the consternation of Judge Palmer.
Hank also reconnects with an old girlfriend, Samantha, played Vera Farmiga, and really gets to know her 20 year old daughter Carla, played by Leighton Meester, which was creepy even without the plot twist about Carla’s paternity.
Overall I liked the film. Downey and Duvall were a treat to watch on screen. I also liked the main plot of the rebel son coming home to rescue his estranged father who is accused of murder. The court scenes with Billy Bob Thornton playing the prosecutor seemed like it would be almost like a thriller. However the trial seemed to be secondary to the drama of the family itself.
It played out as if the son came home after decades away and they tried to cram all of what he missed into the time of the film and still at the end we aren’t really sure if there was some kind of reconciliation or understanding.
The running time of the film was 2 hours and 35 minutes, which is very unusual for a mainstream film today and yet I thought the main plot of the trial was left out of most of those minutes.
There also seemed to be some padding added. One place was the subplot when Hank brings his daughter to meet her Grandpa for the first time ever but it seemed to be tacked on as she only stayed a weekend and went back to her home. Another obvious pad was before the end credits where Hank is seen walking around starring wistfully into the sky. That went on for like a couple of minutes, or it felt like it.
I just think the script wasn’t as tight as it needed to be or it might have been tinkered with since Downey produced the film. The film just didn’t have a stable thread running through it. It tried to tell too many stories and should have picked one or two and told those well.
Still it is a good film to see and I recommend it.