The Hippo


May 27, 2020








The Judge

The Judge (R)
Film Reviews by Amy Diaz

By Amy Diaz

The Judge (R)

Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall take turns mugging for the camera in The Judge, an interminable slog through father-son cliches and nuance-free acting.
Successful attorney Hank Palmer (Downey) has an almost non-existent relationship with his father, the long-serving Indiana judge Joseph Palmer (Duvall). After Hank’s mother dies, he returns to his small hometown for her funeral, reuniting with his older brother Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio) and younger Dale (Jeremy Strong). Glen had professional baseball potential until a car accident (for which a teenage Hank was responsible) injured him; now he is a married father of two boys who owns a local car dealership (or repair shop or something that, as careers go, is actually pretty solid but the movie treats like a tragedy). 
Hank is in town mere minutes before he starts to suspect that, in addition to losing their mom, Glen and Dale might soon lose their dad as well — in the Judge’s case, to the bottle. A one-time drinker, he’s been sober for decades but Hank sees him forget his longtime bailiff’s name and that, along with other details, leads him to believe that the Judge may have begun to drink again. 
Whether or not the Judge is drinking and his general state of mind becomes a big question when, the day after their mom’s funeral, the brothers discover that their dad’s car is banged up. The Judge claims to have no memory of what happened but the police soon show up to inform him that a man was killed during a hit and run, a man whom the Judge has an old grudge against. Soon, the Judge is under arrest and Hank feels compelled to stick around town to help him stay out of jail. You can’t let him go to jail, Glen tells Hank. Without the Judge, Glen will likely have to care for the sweet Dale, who has some sort of mental disability and needs regular looking after.
Hank thusly must stay in the town he ran from — revisiting past difficulties with his family and reconnecting with an old girlfriend, Samantha (Vera Farmiga). 
A common expression of film reviewer fondness for an actor is the phrase “could listen to him read the phone book.” I could listen to Benedict Cumberbatch read the phone book. I could listen to Helen Mirren read the phone book. I could listen to Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall do a joint dramatic reading of the phone book. In defense of this bit of hyperbole, the phone book is better source material than plenty of screenplays — this one, for example. But, as it turns out, in reality you can’t just gather together a lot of solid actors — Downey, Duvall, Farmiga, Thornton, D’Onofrio — and hope a good movie emerges. (See also This Is Where I Leave You.) Downey’s snappy patter and Duvall’s old-man grumpiness shine when there is decent — or at least not eye-rollingly melodramatic — dialogue. Thornton and D’Onofrio can add character to a movie but only if they have characters. Just having them fill out a room and look steely or anguished is not enough. Farmiga — well, heck, almost nobody’s figured out what to do with Farmiga (at least not in movies), though points for continuing to try because she is indeed an interesting actress. But just as the world’s best carpenter can only do so much with particle board, there’s only so much Farmiga or any of them can do with this compression of cliches and scenes that almost feel like parodies of the “for your Oscar consideration”clip.
Sure, The Judge has some nice moments — pretty much all involving Downey or Duvall doing greatest hits of hyperverbal (as the movie itself describes Downey) or grizzled (the “Who Is More Grizzled?” game show being one of my favorite Saturday Night Live segments of all time), respectively. But the movie also has a lot of nonsensical fights — do people who understand and work in the justice system really constantly question the need for and morality of talented defense attorneys? Isn’t that, like, a cornerstone of the whole system? And a lot of speechifying seems to serve only to drag out the story and delay revelations of story points we in the audience have long since guessed. C-
Rated R for language including some sexual references. Directed by David Dobkin with a screenplay by Nick Schenk and Bill Dubuque, The Judge is two hours and 21 minutes of longness and is distributed by Warner Bros.  

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