The Judge is a very thought provoking and emotional film about an estranged family brought together and finding each other and themselves. It’s thin on plot, but heavy on characterization and it is good to see Robert Downey Jr. in a serious role for a change instead of his Iron Man character. Robert Downey Jr. plays Hank Palmer, a high profile, self centered, egotistical lawyer whose marriage is on the rocks, but he loves his little daughter played with smiling cuteness by newcomer Emma Trembly. Hank is summoned to his home town in Indiana for his mother’s funeral. It is there he encounters his estranged father Judge Joseph Palmer played by Robert Duvall who is also a stubborn, but fair judge who has been on the same bench for 42 years and processed thousands of cases and Hank’s two brothers, older brother Glen Palmer played by Vincent D’ Onofrio and younger brother Dale who is a highly functional autistic chap who is obsessed with recording everything with his old super 8 film camera. He reminded me of Duistin Hoffman’s “Rainman” only more functional.
The family broke up years earlier when the three brothers were riding in a car that Hank was driving and they got in an accident which caused brother Glen to lose feeling in his right arm thus ruining a fabulous on the rise professional baseball career.
While at his home town Hank and his dad try to reunite, but his father is very stubborn and doesn’t acknowledge Hank much preferring to dote on Hank’s daughter,his grandaughter,instead. One night while driving to the mini-mart Judge Joseph sees a guy he once sentenced to prison for twenty years and on his ride home hits him on his bicycle with his Cadillac, killing him and runs. Judge Joseph is brought up on murder charges and hires a new, but inept lawyer to defend him. Hank seeing his father in trouble decides to defend him, but the Judge keeps insisting he hit the man to which Hank insists he not say anything during the trial lest his reputation be ruined and all previous cases of the last few months will be contested, but Judge Joseph insists on being honest.
During this time we learn that the judge is suffering from stage 4 colon cancer and undergoing chemotherapy for the past six months. The prosecutor played by Billy Bob Thorton realizes this, but has to do his job and continues to prosecute the judge and court room battles between Hank and the prosecutor Dwight Dickham ensue.
Through all this there is a rekindled romance between Hank and a girl, now a very attractive woman, he knew since the third grade Samantha Powell played by Vera Farmiga who runs the local diner. She has a knock out daughter who Hank takes a liking to only to learn later that her father is his brother Glen who doesn’t know it.
I liked all the characters and performances here except for Billy Bob Thorton as the prosecutor who I thought was very monotonish and dry. The Judge is not a film for everyone, but if you like court room dramas and family relations discovering each other after years apart and maybe some of you reading this can identify with that then this film is worth watching. When I was in the men’s room afterwards I heard three varying opinions. One guy said, “What did you think of that movie? I gave it a nine.” Another guy answered “I gave it a six” and a third guy said , “Not me. It put me to sleep. Real insomnia land.” I thought to myself, “He better not serve on a real jury then.” 😀