‘The Judge’ is a perfect example of how a great composer, cinematographer, and actor cannot save a film from its story. This film is absolutely laced with the most talented people around and they all do fine work. Thomas Newman delivers another beautiful score. Janusz Kaminski captures a small town in the most wonderful light possible. And Robert Downey Jr. gives another fantastic performance (Robert Duvall is pretty damn good as well). The script even gives its actors some pretty decent dialogue at times.
Yet, the whole thing cannot escape feeling like a riddle of movie cliches, all wrapped up in a fancy bow, for mass consumption. Most will lap it up with little issue. The talent on display is good enough to help you overlook its flaws. I just couldn’t bring myself to be one of those people. Not with the dozens of little problems that just kept creeping up over and over as the movie went along.
The film literally opened with a cheesy scene involving Downey’s character, Henry Palmer, peeing on a rival attorney and then admitting he only takes guilty clients to get off. They might as well have stamped a sign on his forehead saying “made for movie redemption”. Then he gets a call letting him know that his mother has died and he has to go back home to Indiana.
When he gets home we quickly discover that Henry and his father do not get along at all. After seeing Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall) as a judge for a few minutes, we find out that he doesn’t really seemed to enjoy his son and it appears to be because of some situation involving his brother in the past. This is one of a few things that we are supposed to wait a while to figure out in a big reveal, but it’s an obvious cliche from the start.
Another cliche is that of the only real female character. That character is Henry’s old high school girlfriend, who just seems to show up at all the convenient moments. Her name is Sam and she is played by the hugely talented Vera Farmiga. Sadly, she appears to have had next to no love life (other than a daughter that Henry thinks is his) in like 20 years. So, she is just game for being his love interest now that he is back in town.
Still, that is just the junk that’s going on around the plot. The story is really about Henry being forced to stay because his dad runs a man he convicted over with his car. This leads to a trial where Henry will have to fix his relationship with his dad in order to save his dad’s life from the evil prosecutor named Dwight Dickham (Billy Bob Thornton). If everything you have read about this movie so far does not sound like eye rolling and predictable dreck then you will probably like this movie.
There are certainly enough technical credits and good actors to make this movie serviceable. It’s hard to watch Downey Jr. In just about anything and not enjoy his presence. It’s also hard to not get a bit emotional when that fantastic piano combines with those strings in an important scene. Newman is just that good. Yet, no matter how good the scenery is in the film, I could never get past the cliched story, characters, situations, and ridiculously long running time.
I actually think many will compare the multiple endings in this movie to ‘The Lord of the Rings’. Except, at least that movie had earned its endings by the time we got there. This movie just won’t end. Maybe, after some time passes I’ll watch this movie again. I’m certainly going to purchase some tracks from the score, but that’s the only money I’ll be spending on this thing. I’m sure I’ll watch it on television a few years down the line and enjoy it more, but that’s the best it really deserves.
Own “THE JUDGE” on Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVD, and Digital HD on January 27th.