The Judge (2014): David Dobkin's flawed but entertaining take on the father-son relationship dyad

A syrupy cocktail fizzing with histrionics

By Murtaza Ali

Featured in IMDb Critic Reviews

The Judge (2014), Directed by David Dobkin, Movie Poster, starring Robert Downey, Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga
The Judge (2014) By David Dobkin
Our Rating: 7.0
IMDb Ratings: 7.8
CastRobert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga
Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime141 min

Summary: Hank Palmer is a successful defense attorney in Chicago, who is getting a divorce. When His brother calls with the news that their mother has died, Hank returns to his childhood home to attend the funeral. Despite the brittle bond between Hank and the Judge, Hank must come to his fathers aid and defend him in court. Here, Hank discovers the truth behind the case, which binds together the dysfunctional family and reveals the struggles and secrecy of the family.

The Judge is a 2014 family drama directed by American filmmaker David Dobkin. Written for the screen by Nick Schenk and Bill Dubuque, The Judge stars Robert Downey, Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Vincent D'Onofrio, Jeremy Strong, and Billy Bob Thornton in major roles. The Judge revolves around a successful Chicago-based defense attorney named Hank Palmer (played by Robert Downey, Jr.). Palmer is in the midst of a midlife crisis when he learns of his mother’s demise. Apparently, his mother is the only link between him and his estranged family with which he had parted a couple of decades back. In order to attend her funeral, he reluctantly takes a trip back to his family home in Carlinville, Indiana where he reunites with his brothers, Glen and Dale, and his disciplinarian father, Judge Joseph Palmer (played by Robert Duvall). At first, there appears no love lost between Judge Palmer and Hank; the ever brewing tension between the father and the son sets the tone of the movie right from the moment they greet each other coldly at the funeral congregation. But, there clearly is more to their relationship than meets the eye and it becomes more obvious as the plot progresses.

Hank (Robert Downey Jr) and Judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall) in The Judge, Directed by  David Dobkin
A Still from The Judge: Hank and Judge Joseph Palmer
Part courtroom drama (à la John Grisham), part family tragedy, The Judge is a strange mess of a film, but one that’s highly entertaining. Yes, the movie is clichéd but the brilliant performances of Robert Downey, Jr. and Robert Duvall make it click. Downey excels at playing “himself” and it is meant as a compliment. The late film critic, Roger Ebert, wrote in his review of Bullitt, more than four decades back: “Stars like McQueen, Bogart, Wayne or Newman aren't primarily actors, but presences. They have a myth, a personal legend they've built up in our minds during many movies, and when they try to play against that image it usually looks phony.” While Downey may not be in the same league as those legendary performers, he has proved it time and again that there are few actors who can play anti-heroic characters that are fast-talking, cocky, suave, sleek, and cheeky better than him. On the other hand, Duvall is one of the greatest character actors of our times. And, he proves in The Judge that even at the age of 83 he is far from being a spent force. In fact, Duvall seems to have made a strong case for being recognized by the Academy with yet another Oscar nomination.

Vincent D'Onofrio, Jeremy Strong, Robert Downey Jr in The Judge, Palmer Siblings, Directed by David Dobkin
A Still from The Judge: Palmer Siblings
Overall, The Judge is a potpourri of human emotions, a syrupy cocktail fizzing with histrionics that has all the makings of a Greek tragedy. And, yet, to the keen-eyed, the sentiments may appear perfunctory and the pain superfluous (the actors, to their credit, seem to have tried their best to cover up the flaws in the narrative). Perhaps, that’s the price one pays for commercializing art. However, the movie’s greatest strength is how it succeeds in expounding, with great subtlety, the tender and often painful threads of the father-son relationship dyad. In addition to Downey’s and Duvall’s, some of the other performances on display are also quite memorable. While Vera Farmiga (her flirtatious portrayal harks back to her turn in Martin Scorsese’s The Departed) and Vincent D'Onofrio are quite solid in their respective roles, Jeremy Strong packs a punch with his brilliant portrayal of a retard who loves to shoot around with his camera. Billy Bob Thornton makes his presence felt in the limited screen time that he gets. While the movie’s cinematography and editing are impeccable, the same can’t be said of its direction. In the opinion of this critic, The Judge is not great cinema but those who love movies shouldn't mind watching it. For, despite its flaws, The Judge remains an intriguing film with a touching ending. 

Readers, please feel free to share your opinion by leaving your comments. As always your valuable thoughts are highly appreciated!  


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  1. Already booked tickets for saturday. I am a greatest fan of Downey and your reviews seems to be good. Thank you Murtaza.

  2. Glad you liked the review... would love to have your thoughts on the movie once you have watched it!!! :-)


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