Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, “The Judge” is a fine example of a movie that features a likable cast and it’s solidly made throughout, but it ultimately falls short of its loftier ambitions.
It stars Robert Downey Jr. as Hank Palmer, a successful lawyer in Chicago who gets news of his mother’s death. This forces Hank to return to his home of Carlinville, Indiana, to attend the funeral. While there, he reunites with his estranged father, Judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall).
Things go from bad to worse when Joseph is accused of murder, and it’s up to his hotshot attorney son to help establish his innocence. The only things standing in the way of clearing the good judge’s name are each other.
Billy Bob Thornton gives a good performance as the prosecuting attorney who wants to put Joseph away for life. Between this role and Tyler Perry’s in “Gone Girl,” it’s looking like a comeback year for law in film.
Objection! In the middle of defending his father, Downey is visited by his old flame (Vera Farmiga), who’s interested in rekindling the passion of their long-lost love.
These performances and this production deserve a better movie. All the principal actors handle their roles with skill and competency, but there also isn’t a consistent tone.
The film has several unexpectedly funny moments, but then they’re broken up by the somberness of the case and repetitive clichés about how Hank and Joseph never bonded as father and son.
I did like a scene early in the film in which Downey confronts a group of rednecks in a bar by automatically determining what crimes they committed in the past just by looking at their scars and demeanors on their faces. I wonder how well he would’ve done during O.J. Simpson’s trial.
“The Judge” has honorable intentions, but its tone doesn’t work enough to carry it through and make us care about it like we should. I hereby sentence the audience intended for this film to go give “Gone Girl” a second viewing.
(Rated R for language, including sexual references.)
Hall is a syndicated columnist in South Georgia.