Wednesday, October 08, 2014

“The Judge”– Movie Review



This week, the Fall Semester of my movie class began with a screening of the new drama, “The Judge”, starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Robert Duvall.


When a defense lawyer’s estranged father is accused of murder, the lawyer agrees to represent him at his trial – but will their long-unresolved differences prevent him from keeping his father out of prison?


As a successful defense attorney in Chicago, Hank (Downey) makes a great living for himself and his family – but his marriage is falling apart once he learns his wife has been cheating on him because he spends so much time working. When Hank is notified that his mother has passed away, he must return to his home in Carlinville, Indiana to attend her funeral; to make matters worse, this means he’ll have to deal with his father Joseph (Duvall), a powerful and well-known judge in that town, from whom he has been estranged for many years. Hank’s plan is to attend the funeral and return to his Chicago practice as soon as possible in order to minimize contact with his father.

Just as he’s about to leave, the local police inform Hank that Joseph is now the subject of a murder investigation. The previous night, a man on a bicycle was struck by a car and killed; with evidence on Joseph’s car strongly suggesting he was involved in the incident, the police officers wish to question him. What further points to Joseph’s possible guilt is the fact that the victim was an ex-con who got a light sentence by Joseph when he was originally convicted; shortly after his release from prison, the man murdered someone else and Joseph has long since regretted the light sentence he had previously given.

When Joseph hires a local lawyer who lacks significant courtroom experience (Dax Shepard), Hank becomes concerned that his father may not be getting the best defense possible, especially given the fact that the slick prosecuting attorney (Billy Bob Thornton) appears to be acquiring mounting evidence indicating Joseph’s guilt. As a result, Hank convinces a reluctant Joseph to allow him to be co-counsel on the case so that Joseph can at least have a decent shot at earning his freedom. But when Hank becomes aware of his elderly father’s increasingly failing memory that produces certain lapses in his alibi, will even he be able to keep his father from a long prison sentence?


With a fairly high-powered cast (including the luscious Vera Farmiga who plays Hank’s ex-girlfriend and Vincent D’Onofrio as Hank’s older brother), it’s a shame that the script isn’t better; at nearly two and a half hours, “The Judge” has far too many scenes that telegraph events that are going to occur further down the road. This predictability detracts from some really fine performances by the talented ensemble. “The Judge” might be better appreciated as a rental, but it’s in no way a must-see unless you are curious about what the actors can do with these parts (Downey’s separate scenes with Duvall and Farmiga are particularly good).

One thing some viewers might find fairly annoying – it’s certainly something that gets under my skin whenever I watch one of these crime dramas – is the phoniness of the courtroom scenes. Basically, the Hollywood set that’s built for the courtroom is usually not an accurate representation of what they resemble in real life. Specifically, what’s missing here is the podium at which the attorney stands when addressing the individual in the witness booth. The way it is portrayed in most movies – including “The Judge” – is that the lawyers are standing directly in front of the witness and we are expected to believe that everyone else in the courtroom (including and especially the jury) are able to hear the conversation.

Following the screening, David Dobkin, director of “The Judge”, was interviewed by our instructor. Dobkin said that the film was considerably longer – nearly four hours once he was ready to start editing – and what was particularly painful for him was that he needed to cut some of the actors’ best performances from the movie (including a scene between Downey and D’Onofrio which he felt was especially powerful). According to Dobkin, Duvall didn’t want to take the role of Joseph due to a scene in the bathroom where he gets sick and Downey’s character has to take care of him. Ultimately, Dobkin was able to convince Duvall that he would shoot it in a way that would not make him feel uncomfortable, so Duvall changed his mind and accepted the part.


The Judge (2014) on IMDb

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