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Our Verdict on “The Judge”

We attended a screening as a guest of the studio
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As adults, most of us accept that it’s likely in our lifetime, our parents are going to leave us. Still, getting that phone call especially when it’s unexpected, is shocking and can leave you numb with grief. For many of us, that call means we must put our normal lives on hold, hop on a plane, and return home.

“The Judge” begins with high powered, Chicago Defense Attorney, Hank Palmer, played by Robert Downey Jr. receiving just this phone call in the midst of a trial in which he is defending his clearly guilty client. You realize two minutes in that Hank never loses a case. He is the best money can buy and he leaves no stone unturned to reach a verdict in favor of his client. His conscience doesn’t seem one bit bothered by who he is defending. This unseemly, brash side is contrasted almost immediately in the film by the tenderness he shows for his young daughter, Lauren, played by Emma Tremblay (“The Giver”).

Hank asks for a continuance and is granted one. He says goodbye to his daughter, good riddance to his cheating soon to be ex-trophy wife and he’s off to attend his mother’s funeral, the one thing that could bring him back to his hometown of Carlinville, Indiana a place he left some 20 years earlier and has avoided since.

Once in the picturesque, small town of Carlinville, you meet Hank’s younger brother Dale (Jeremy Strong). It’s immediately obvious there is something off about Dale, but there is real tenderness between the two. Not so with Hank’s older brother Glen, played by Vincent D’Onofrio. There is definite tension in this relationship and as tense as this relationship is, there is no relationship between Hank and his father, Judge Palmer (Robert Duvall). The Judge has written off his son Hank and can barely stand to be in the same room with him.

Their contentious relationship becomes more problematic as Hank, attempts to defend his father against a murder charge after a hit and run in which a man is killed… assistance The Judge fights every step of the way, preferring help from a lawyer with “integrity”, local attorney CP Kennedy (Dax Shepard). Through the course of the trial, the real drama unfolds as you begin to understand the events that led up to the damage in this family’s relationships and to Hank’s estrangement from them.

The movie is well cast with Downey, Duvall, D’Onofrio, Strong, and Shepard. And also includes Billy Bob Thorton as a frighteningly intense prosecutor and Vera Farmiga as Samantha Powell, a former girlfriend Hank reconnects with while in Carlinville.

Downey and Duvall are two of my all time favorite actors and they dominate delivering exceptionally powerful performances. The fast talking Downey’s quick-witted sarcasm is entertaining and you feel his frustration and pain when he’s trying but failing to connect with his father, while Duvall is 100% believable as a tough highly principled Judge who demands respect not just from the town but from his family. He is bitter and seemingly unforgiving and cold, but demonstrates a more relatable human side as he mourns the loss of his beloved wife, wins the heart of his granddaughter, and suffers the indignities of aging and illness.

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Our verdict. Go see this movie… especially if you are a Robert Downey Jr. or Robert Duvall fan. The performances are stellar. The story is intriguing and though it’s no doubt a drama, there is plenty of humor sprinkled in to ease the emotional tension.

The Judge opened Friday, October 10.
Written by Nick Schenk, David Dobkin, and Bill Dubuque
Directed by David Dobkin
Produced by David Gambino, Susan Downey, David Dobkin
Rated R

Dana Wilde grew up playing “sous chef” for her father as he churned out one amazing meal after the next for family and friends. She inherited her father’s life long passion for cooking and has spent the past two decades studying, reading, practicing, experimenting, and creating in the kitchen. Together, she and her sister, Shan are Simply Wilde, a small boutique catering business focusing on in-home entertaining.
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