It is a beautiful journey to witness and incredibly emotional.
Robert Duvall and Robert Downey Jr. show that when all is said and done an actors job is to act. Plain and simple. Strip down all the action and special effects. Take away the elaborate story lines and inconceivable plots. If the actor can't act or follow direction then the movie is as good as finished. Expert delivery can sell the most mediocre of scripts.
Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) is a hot shot defense attorney who returns to his small hometown for his mother's funeral. To say he is estranged from his father Joseph (Robert Duvall), the towns long appointed and highly respected judge, and two brothers is an understatement. It is clear that Hank took off and never looked back. Coming home is never easy and it is harder when there is decades of unresolved hurt and baggage. The tension thickens when Joseph is suspected of murder days after the funeral and Hank begrudgingly stays behind to help. Through it all father and son must learn to reconnect and start dismantling the wall that has been erected.
The father and son dynamic makes for good drama when you have long festering wounds like those found in this story. Hank and his father can hardly look each other in the eye and when they do you get the feeling they are daring the other to speak. The fight is ready to burst forth from years of stuffing and swallowing. The pressure relived in short spurts of sarcastic and angry word jabs. Duvall is such an amazing actor and able to put on the many faces that his character wears. He can turn on an emotional dime and never once does he slip or disappoint. RDJ is as smug and cocky as always which fits Hank's persona. Viewers have to train themselves to separate this character from Tony Stark. Downey made the Iron Man films so memorable that anytime we see him swagger we instantly think of the millionaire playboy. That isn't the actors fault though and he shouldn't be penalized for our inability to see past it.
If you have ever found yourself running from the small town life vowing never to look back you will appreciate that element of the story. Driving down familiars streets that you no longer feel at home on. Running into old friends who have hung around. Hank deals with all of this ont op of the issue with his father. Some of these moments break the tension of the film and give it a relaxed recess from the drama. Vera Farmiga is always worth mentioning and this time around she plays Hank's High School sweetheart. Also worth mentioning is Billy Bob Thornton who plays the attorney brought in to prosecute The Judge. Thornton is always a joy to watch.
The film has a decent amount of legal thrills but keep in mind the the true heartbeat of the film is the relationship between Hank and his father. As the movie progresses you start to care less and less about the outcome of the trial and more about these two men coming to value one another. Joseph is a proud man and Hank has a hard time understanding his values. It is a beautiful journey to witness and incredibly emotional.
The Judge is rated R for language including some sexual references. It is an adult drama and the language is the main reason for the language. There are thematic elements but none are gratuitous or offensive. As Oscar season approaches this one sets the bar for any other actor following. Though not a perfect story it is made near perfect by the caliber of its two leading men. I give it 4 out 5 concert T's.
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