Shalom Life | August 06, 2015

TIFF 2014: The Judge

TIFF’s star-studded opening night, highly-polished family drama offers substance as well.

By: Anthony Marcusa

Published: September 17th, 2014 in Culture » Film » Reviews

TIFF 2014: The Judge

Familiar tropes and clichés abound on the surface of The Judge, the Toronto International Film Festival’s star-studded opening night movie, but this highly-polished family drama offers substance too.

Hank Palmer is a sharply-dressed and fast talking lawyer, whose name might as well be Robert Downey Jr., as the talented actor falls into a caricature of a role. A loveable defender of those otherwise guilty (innocent people can’t afford him, he says), Palmer is indeed a stereotype, so much so that a colleague mentions it in the opening – so at least the film realizes.

Palmer leaves his extravagant house, a precocious daughter and a dissolving relationship with his wife, (taking to the airport in a sports car, mind you) returning home to a quaint Indiana town for his mother’s funeral. There he is forced to deal an estranged father, his two brothers, and plenty other past issues.

The elder Palmer, not called by his first name Joseph but instead his title ‘Judge,’ is a local paragon of justice. Played by Robert Duvall, the Judge is in his twilight years, and a late night blackout leads to a car accident and the death of a bystander, putting this noted judiciary on the defensive – good thing he has a fabulous lawyer for a son.

Unfortunately they don’t get along none too well, and the Judge would rather a neophyte with a heart than a winner without one by his side. As this tense mystery unravels in and out of the court, a case that involves a menacing prosecutor played by Billy Bob Thornton, Hank confronts past issues, including reconnecting with a high school flame Samantha (Vera Farmiga) and addressing an incident with his two brothers.

All these moving parts nicely infuse together in a high value, entertaining mainstream drama. The Samantha storyline feels a bit extraneous, adding to the film’s lengthy running time, but it does offer some of the funniest moments as well as the only female presence in what is otherwise a man’s movie.

The Judge doesn’t have to be novel to be satisfying, and it certainly has its flaws. Still, Downey Jr.’s ability to blend dramatic tension and comedic absurdity, paired with Duvall’s stellar performance make this a winning watch.

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