By: Michael “MovieBuff801″ Dennos
It’s that time of year again. Around every October begins a slew of “prestige movies” hoping to gain some popularity points with Oscar voters in some form or another. Maybe half of them actually end up living to those lofty expectations, while the other half fall awkwardly into that “trying too hard” category, where they’re destined to mostly be forgotten by the time January rolls around. Unfortunately, David Dobkin’s The Judge is part of the latter. You’d think a great, or at least very good movie would be delivered here with such a promising premise and cast, but while The Judge certainly has its strong moments and two equally powerful lead performances to help it along, this is a movie that’s too preoccupied with following the “Oscar Bait Handbook,” that said predisposition overshadows the rest of the movie.
Robert Downey Jr. stars as Hank Palmer, an infamous “big city” defense attorney with an intimidating reputation in the courtroom. One day, Hank receives word that his mother has passed away, prompting him to hop on a flight home to Carlinville, Indiana for the funeral. Almost immediately upon arriving, Hank is bombarded with reminders of the life he left behind, the most painful of which being the crusty, old-fashioned Judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall), a.k.a. Daddy Dearest. To say that Hank and The Judge (yes, that’s what most people in the film call him) have a troubled relationship would be an understatement; these two can’t be around each other for five minutes without one or the other being insulted. After the funeral, Hank practically already has one foot on the plane, but is forced to stay when his father is hauled into the police station on suspicion of murder. The evidence isn’t exactly doing him any favors, and before either father or son know it, Hank has taken up the case to clear his dad’s name, going up against a determined prosecutor named Dwight Dickham (Billy Bob Thornton). I know what you’re thinking, and yeah, that name’s a bit too on-the-nose, isn’t it? Meanwhile, Hank has to put up with pressure from his brother Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio), as well as deal with the affections of an old high school girlfriend, Samantha (Vera Farmiga). In more ways than one, this is the case of Hank’s life.