DENNIS SCHWARTZ Movie Reviews

THE JUDGE (director: David Dobkin; screenwriters: Nick Schenk/Bill Dubuque/story by David Dobkin and Nick Schenk; cinematographer: Janusz Kaminski; editor: Mark Livolsi; music:  Thomas Newman; cast: Robert Downey Jr. (Hank Palmer), Robert Duvall (Joseph Palmer), Vera Farmiga (Samantha Powell), Vincent D’Onofrio (Glen Palmer), Jeremy Strong (Dale Palmer), Dax Shepard (C. P. Kennedy), Billy Bob Thornton (Dwight Dickham), Leighton Meester (Carla Powell), Emma Tremblay (Lauren Palmer), Ken Howard (Judge Warren), Balthazar Getty (Deputy Hanson), David Krumholtz (Mike Kattan ), Mark Kiely (Mark Blackwell ), Grace Zabriskie (Mrs. Blackwell), Sarah Lancaster (Lisa Palmer), Denis O'Hare (Doc Morris), Lonnie Farmer (Gus the Baliff), Matt Riedy (Sheriff White); Runtime: 142; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Susan Downey/David Dobkin/David Gambino; Warner Bros.; 2014)

"With a great performance by Robert Duvall that almost saves this overlong, predictable, poorly edited, tension-free, cliched courtroom drama, really a family drama, from all its sappy moments."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Beautifully filmed (though with small town Massachusetts unconvincingly subbing for the film's farmland Indiana location) and with a great performance by Robert Duvall that almost saves this overlong, predictable, poorly edited, tension-free, cliched courtroom drama, really a family drama, from all its sappy moments. David Dobkin ("Shanghai Knights"/"Wedding Crashers"/"Fred Claus"), noted for his comedy films, broadens his horizons with this serious melodrama and might have succeeded if he was able to prune the story of all its contrived artifices. It's based on a story by Dobkin and Nick Schenk. The screenplay is by Schenk and Bill Dubuque, with Dubuque's dialogue sometimes funny and sometimes trite and sometimes too familiar to care one way or the other.

Hotshot slick Chicago defense attorney Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) while finishing up a case in a Chicago courtroom learns of his beloved elderly mom's death and with the judge's consent exits the court to the funeral in his hometown of Carlinville, Indiana. Before the death notice, Hank, a big-city slickster mouthpiece for his wealthy guilty clients, is at home dealing with a personal upcoming divorce to his trophy wife (Sarah Lancaster) while trying to bond with his curious perceptive adolescent daughter (Emma Tremblay) he dearly loves but neglects because he's a workaholic. In his return to his birthplace, Hank is dealing with getting along with his estranged father, Joe Palmer (Robert Duvall). Dad is the bullheaded esteemed and principled local judge of four decades, who insists things are done his way and that the court is like a cathedral. He also must deal with his older local businessman brother Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio), who has a complex relationship with Hank, and his gentle younger mentally challenged brother Dale (Jeremy Strong), a home-movie camera buff, the butt of constant patronizing jokes about his lack of guile.

Instead of returning to Chicago after the funeral, as he's anxious to do, the smug Hank, looking down on the locals as inferiors and not getting the love from his prominent dad he expects, learns that there's blood on dad's antique Caddy that matches a dead vic and car damage that indicates he was in an accident. Thereby the judge is accused by the young deputy sheriff (Balthazar Getty) of the hit-and-run death of the highway bicycle rider Blackwell (Mark Kiely), the white trash boy the judge sent to prison for murder who was just released after serving a twenty year term and someone the judge still hates for his vicious crime after the judge cut him some slack with a slap on the wrist sentence for his previous attempt to kill the vic.

Hank capably lawyers for his secretly terminally ill cancer-ridden father at his trial, replacing dad's choice of the inexperienced country bumpkin local lawyer (Dax Shepard), and battles in court with the respectful of the law efficient out-of-town special prosecutor (Billy Bob Thornton). Meanwhile the super lawyer reunites with his family and uncovers some dark secrets from the past. Hank also hooks up with his townie old flame, the hottie single mom Samantha (Vera Farmiga), and it seems that by the film's climax that they also will be reuniting.

Problem with all the gooey crowd-pleasing pat stuff is that Duvall is such a fine actor, that even when he craps in his pants, it seems like a work of art while, on the other hand, Downey's anti-hero schtick of trying to win you over after exposing his noxious faults, sardonic gift of gab and cynicism might have worked in his superhero Iron Man films but in this one the actor seems disingenuous and though he plays his role well there's an emptiness about him that carries over to his character as well as to the film.

REVIEWED ON 10/10/2014       GRADE: C+

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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