Downey and Duvall Battle in the The Judge
In The Judge, big city defense lawyer Hank Palmer returns to his childhood home where his estranged father, the town’s judge, is suspected of murder. Hank sets out to discover the truth and, along the way, reconnects with the family he walked away from years before.
Robert Downey Jr. plays Hank Palmer, the hot-shot criminal-attorney son of strict small-town judge Joseph Palmer, portrayed by Robert Duvall. Hank has is a successful, high-priced law practice in Chicago, as well as a precocious daughter (Emma Tremblay) and a philandering wife. But he has to return home to Carlinville, Ind., for his mother’s funeral, and a reluctant reunion with his domineering father, from whom he’s long been estranged.
His older brother Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio) had dreams of playing baseball and now runs a local store. His sweet younger brother Dale (Jeremy Strong) is mentally challenged, but loves shooting Super 8 movies. The self-righteous judge’s dislike for his slick son has kept Hank from visiting.
On the night of the funeral, the increasingly forgetful judge goes out for eggs. As Hank is leaving for the airport early the next morning, he notices damage to the front passenger fender of his father’s 1971 Cadillac that only the judge was allowed to drive. Before the plane can take off, his brother calls telling him the judge has been arrested for a fatal car accident in which the judge has struck and killed a recent parolee, who years before the Judge had given a light sentence of 30 days for abuse. When the dead man had gotten out after his 30 days, he returned to brutally kill his girlfriend. The events left a blot of regret on the Judge’s conscience; the dead man left his bloodstains on the fender of that Coupe de Ville.
When he’s arraigned, the Judge hires local inexperienced lawyer C.P. Kennedy (Dax Shepard) as his counsel, but to mount a compelling defense against the slick silver-haired prosecutor Dwight Dickham (Billy Bob Thornton) he needs a clever advocate. While Hank had been planning to leave town after his mom’s funeral, hey stays around to defend his dad.
However, one scene in which father, who we learn has stage four cancer, and son deal with the indignities of old age is starkly moving. Hank helps his ailing father in an excrement-soiled bathroom after a round of chemo, pulling him into the shower while they both struggle for an excuse to keep Hank’s young daughter outside.
Vera Farmiga plays Samantha, Hank’s high school girlfriend and the owner of a local diner.
How many heels does it get?
Director David Dobkin’s The Judge is well-acted. No one plays an ornery old cuss better than Duvall, and Downey does acerbic wit with ease. Not surprisingly, the best scenes are between these two superb actors. But at 2 hours and 22 minutes, the story can be slow at times. The melodramatic film has a few too many sub-plots that undercut the story of an embittered son and his estranged father. Rated R. Opens Oct. 10, 2014.
My rating: 4 out of 5 Heels
Editor-in-Chief Mark Heckathorn is a journalist, movie buff and foodie. He oversees DC on Heels editorial operations as well as strategic planning and staff development. Reach him with story ideas or suggestions at dcoheditor (at) gmail (dot) com.