There is a point in a woman’s life — specifically, mine — when surprises in movies and in dates are just not all that welcome anymore. Which is why “The Judge” is a vehicle to like — very, very much. Robert Downey Jr. faces off with Robert Duvall in a patriarchal, angst-ridden mystery thriller set in small-town Indiana. There are rewards to be reaped from this story that takes you exactly where you think you’re going, and arrives at the moment you think you’ll get there. So what if there are no detours — much less, speed bumps — along the way? Granted there are no surprises, but it’s pretty high on the comfort factor.
“The Judge” is the kind of movie to be savored while deeply ensconced in an upholstered theater seat, with a flask of whisky — a scheme that would work better if you’re a well-to-do, over-40 male, but one can’t have everything.
“The Judge” could be described as the testosterone-heavy version of the 2013 sleeper hit “August: Osage County,” which pitted Meryl Streep, as a boozy, cancerous mom, in a hideous cat fight with Julia Roberts, as her type-A daughter. That film was mostly been about (stereotypical) women’s issues such as familial relationships, rivalry and jealousy, but “The Judge” is heavily macho, leaning toward issues such as professionalism, upholding male honor and other old-school stuff. That’s OK — in fact, it’s only to be expected. To the film’s credit, the sole love interest represented by Vera Farmiga isn’t a flimsy, two-dimensional fantasy. Farmiga’s Samantha is an attractive blonde, but she’s a solid presence — the kind of woman that draws her old high school boyfriend, Hank Palmer (Downey Jr.), to visit her after he arrives back in town.
|Rating||out of 5|
|Run Time||141 minutes|
Aside from Farmiga, Hank is downright reluctant to return home after his mother’s death. Years ago, he had run away to Chicago and refashioned himself into a motor-mouthed defense attorney whose fees are so high “innocent people can’t afford me.” In Chicago, his cheating wife and young daughter are about to leave him, and Hank drives back to his hometown alone, to reunite with a family he still can’t bring himself to love. His dad (Duvall), whom everyone calls “Judge Palmer,” has been presiding over the local courtroom for 42 years and has never been anything but a strict and forbidding man, though it’s revealed quickly enough that his health is rapidly deteriorating.
Father and son finally come to terms with the animosity, resentment and pain that had defined Hank’s childhood and teen years — and they do it during a cyclone, inside a courtroom. Judge Palmer has been accused of murder and Hank opts to defend him, and the two square off in a verbal jousting match that unleashes decades of hurt, hatred and unfulfilled longing for each other’s approval. The scene may be way too contrived for today’s cinema but its impact can’t be denied. This one will stay with you for a long, long time.