Let me give you analogy of what it felt like
watching 'The Judge'. Say you have a pet turtle and
every once in a while this turtle pokes his head out, which
makes you happy. But you want this turtle to poke his
head out again. So you try to talk to the turtle to poke
his head out, you tap his shell, you blow on him, you yell at
him until eventually you just start banging on his shell to
get this cursed turtle to pop his head out of his shell, but
alas the only thing this turtle does is retreat deeper and
deeper into this shell. Eventually the filmmakers behind
'The Judge' started banging on my head, trying to force some
kind of emotive response out of me, when eventually all I
wanted was for this movie to just slowly go away. Which
it did. Just as I eventually walked away from that damn
Robert Downey Jr. is big time Chicago defense attorney Hank
Palmer, and Hank is a jerk. How do we know this?
He knowingly defends rich clients who are clearly guilty, and
he 'accidentally' peed on one of the prosecutors in the
bathroom. Clearly, that's something only a jerk would
do. This guy needs redemption in the worst way.
Then unfortunately Hank gets the call that his beloved mom had
passed… so beloved I don't think Hank seen her in twenty or so
years, but whatever, it's time to head back to Podunk Indiana,
and that's one place Hank doesn't want to go. Why?
Because The Judge, his old man Joe Palmer is there, and these
two hate each other. Joe is rude, obstinate, bull
headed, cranky and in a constant state of red ass. This
guy needs redemption in the worst way.
Hank also has brothers in Glen (Vincent D'Onofrio), and the
mentally challenged Dale (Jeremy Strong) to deal with, and
there's a bit of history in this as well, but it's The Judge
that's the problem. The funeral happens, The Judge and
Hank lay into one another something awful and Hank is on his
way back to his empty life in Chicago where his marriage is
ending and he has the world's most adorable little girl, until
he gets a call. The Judge has run over somebody with his
old Caddy and the authorities are pressing murder charges.
So Hank jumps off the plane, goes to find out
what's happening and represent his cranky hateful old
man. His old man doesn't want this big city slickster
standing up for him, until it looks like he has no choice
because it's looking kind of bad for the judge, being as how
the person he accidentally ran down with his car was somebody
he really wouldn't mind seeing dead, and prosecuting attorney
Dickham (Billy Bob Thornton) is trying this case like The
Judge is one of the Nuremberg Seven.
The trial goes well, the trial goes badly, Joe and Hank get
along, Joe and Hank blow up at each other, revelations are
made, secrets are revealed, until… redemption. And all
will be right with the world.
I approached 'The Judge' prepared to love this movie, and why
not? Robert Downey Jr, Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga,
Vincent D'Onofrio, Billy Bob Thornton and all of these actors
did what they do. Think RDJ can play a pompous, know it
all jerk who is smarter than everybody else in the room?
Even though I think the man is arguably the finest actor of
this generation, for the last decade it's pretty much all he's
played. Think Robert Duvall can play a cranky old
man? I don't think Mr. Duvall has to do any research for
that role. 'The Judge' is a movie that takes square pegs
and puts them in square holes so it should work absolutely
perfectly. But for me it didn't.
Why is that? A number of reasons. For starters the
whole exercise felt manufactured. Like a symphony played
by machines, not people. Sure, it sounds right, but it
feels wrong. The overwrought emotional cues felt forced,
or most were wedged in for the sole purpose to drag some
emotional response out of the audience, not necessarily
because it actually belonged in the story. Another
reason is that our two main characters were pretty terrible
people. We know both characters have to find redemption
at the end, but there's a balance that has be there
beforehand, one that gives us some kind of endearment towards
them, one that tells us that they are merely flawed, not just
flat out awful people. What kind of person pees on
another person? What kind of person doesn't see their
mom or brothers for two decades just to spite another
person? Hank was stunned at the way his father took his
daughter. Who doesn't know that grandparents love their
grandchildren way more than their actual children? And
for the judge's part, what kind of father doesn't even send a
congratulatory note to their child after they graduate college
/ then law school? No matter what they went through? A
terrible father, that's the kind of father. There
are things these two men do that are almost unforgivable,
like… maybe… vehicular homicide… that redemption at the end
just isn't going resolve.
Then the movie was just way too long. Long emotional
speeches, long emotional diatribes, lengthy scenes that in the
grand scheme of things could've been left on the cutting room
floor, and then we had something like four endings. Is
this 'Return of the King' I'm watching over here?
I don't want to sound like I thought 'The Judge' was awful,
because it's not. There were some scenes between Downey
Jr. and Mr. Duvall that were pure magic, two characters
relating to each other on a personal, genuine level. We
needed more of that authenticity and less of a director
hitting me on the head trying to force some emotion response
out of me. I completely resisted that. 'The Judge'
was worse off for it.