The Judge Blu-ray Review
The best way to describe THE JUDGE is to compare it to a sports team. This particular sports team has all the talent in the world, but yet they come up short when it counts. It’s the same with THE JUDGE. There is superior acting talent on display here, but they are consistently tripped up by a cliché ridden script. So in effect they do not live up to the promise.
Robert Downey Jr. can play overly confident slick characters in his sleep. He’s basically been doing that the last few years with the Tony Stark and Sherlock Holmes characters. Here he plays Hank Palmer, a confident egotistical defense lawyer who practices in Chicago. He boasts early on that he doesn’t care that his clients are guilty as long as they are paying his large fees. While in trial, he gets the unsettling news that his mother has died. Hank had been estranged for many years from his family because of his rocky relationship with his father. He heads back to his small hometown of Carlinville in Indiana. One of the clichés is how like a Normal Rockwell painting this town is. You have the adults waving to each other in passing cars and kids skipping away with no cares in the world.
Hank’s father is Judge Joseph Palmer (the Oscar nominated Robert Duvall). The judge is no nonsense in his court room. He delivers his verdicts with moral indignation. They are meant to teach the people valuable lessons. He transferred these traits over to his children with mixed results. Hank has two brothers. There is Glen Palmer (Vincent D’Onofrio), a former baseball phenom whose career was wrecked by a serious car accident. Glen never did get over that tragedy and lives with deep regret. The youngest brother is Dale Palmer (Jeremy Strong), a mentally challenged person who enjoys videotaping everything. That is his personal blanket, but it doesn’t get well received with some of the images that he has captured over the years.
The family gets rocked when Judge Palmer gets charged with murder after he hits a person on his bike with his car at night. The person who he hit was someone he is lenient toward after he was abusive toward his high school girlfriend. The guy ended up killing the girlfriend and Judge Palmer has regretted his decision ever since. This is where the clichés start piling up. We start with the out of his league country lawyer played by Dax Shepard. Let’s not forget that they have to bring on some smooth prosecutor. He is played in typical smooth fashion by Billy Bob Thornton. And also we have the old girlfriend of Hank’s played by Vera Farmiga. She didn’t move away of course and she just loves it there. Everything just seems so pat and so predictable. You can guess quite quickly that Hank will take on his father’s case after the country bumpkin fumbles around.
The trial is just not all that believable. Hank asks about the bumper stickers that perspective jurors have on their cars. I realize this is supposed to show how colorful some people are, but that is just laughable. Hank learns that Judge Palmer has Stage 4 Cancer. The judge doesn’t want anyone to know this because it might tarnish his legacy in some ways. You see the chemotherapy has these nasty side effects that has been seeping into his courtroom lately.
I just didn’t buy much of what transpires. You know exactly what will happen. Will the family drama be played out in the courtroom itself? You bet it is. Will Hank start changing his ways? Do you even need to ask? I really wanted to relate to these people. There’s even an incest subplot that get hammered home in such an obvious way.
THE JUDGE is a drama that mostly misses its marks. The actors do their best with the material, but fail to bring it out of its malaise.
Video: Small town life is captured well on film.
Audio: The sound was decent. I did have some issues hearing the dialogue, but it wasn’t too bad.
Inside The Judge (22:16): This is an informal gathering of some of the major players of the film. It includes the director and one of the producers. It’s a very well done piece. They go over rehearsal, chemistry, working with Duvall, their characters and watching and critiquing several scenes.
Getting Deep with Dax Shepard (9:21): This is a funny segment where Shepard interviews Downey Jr., Thornton and D’Onofrio. I must admit that I did chuckle a few times.
Deleted Scenes (18:28): There are 11 scenes in all. You can watch this with optional commentary by the director. The scenes were cut out either because of length or tone. One scene is just Hank getting stoned. Another scene explores further the speech Judge Palmer gives to his wife’s coffin. There are also scenes dealing with more material with Hank and his ex and Hank looking over the old lake house.
Feature Commentary with Director David Dobkin: His commentary is pretty much straight forward.