The Judge offers solid performances from its two leads. Nonetheless, this is not enough to carry the entire film.
High profile lawyer Hank Palmer returns to his small hometown for the first time in years after a family bereavement. When his estranged father, the long-standing town judge, is arrested for murder, Hank sets out help him…
The premise of The Judge is decent enough. There is an element of mystery to the case which should engage viewers for the most part. In fact, if the film had concentrated on the criminal case, it is likely that The Judge would have been a more satisfying film.
However, director David Dobkin chooses to concentrate on the relationship dynamic rather than the criminal case in The Judge. The central narrative of the strained relationship between father and son is not necessarily a bad thing. Nevertheless, the characters are not developed sufficiently to make this compelling. There is something rather two-dimensional about the characters. They are archetypes, which the audience will be familiar with. Whilst reasons for the difficult relationship are explained as the film progresses, these never feel fully authentic.
Ultimately, The Judge is let down by this, as well as its pacing. The film is overlong, with plenty of scenes that do little to move along plot or to further develop characters. The climax of the film is particularly mawkish. Whilst a breakthrough in the relationship needed to occur, the setting and reaction of observers seems to break noticeably from what would be the reality. The Judge may have had a greater impact if a greater degree of subtlety had been employed.
Robert Duvall offers a strong performance as Joseph Palmer. Robert Downey Jr. brings his charisma to Hank; a role not dissimilar from other lead characters he has played. It is almost as if the screenwriters have relied on the actor’s persona to build the character.
The Judge offers a high-calibre cast, but a lacklustre end product. Ultimately, the film feels like a wasted opportunity.