Support Local Journalism. Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club.

Film Review: The Judge 

In The Judge, out Friday at theaters areawide, high-profile Chicago defense attorney Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) must defend his father, Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall), a long-tenured district judge in Carlinville, Ind., after he's been accused of murder in the wake of his wife's death. Downey Jr., channeling Tony Stark, and Duvall, channeling Robert Duvall, both play roles they could more or less play in their sleep (douchey big-city lawyer and stern grandpa, respectively) and together escort this courtroom-slash-family drama to basic success.

But don't buy a large popcorn expecting a John Grisham thriller or anything. The courtroom scenes, which don't quite sizzle, are ultimately what you'll be waiting for. And despite a lackluster showing from Billy Bob Thornton as a determined prosecutor, the jury selection and the cross-examinations and the non-stop "Objection!-Overruled!-Objection!" sequences are all serviceable entertainment, to say nothing of the daily vomiting and wow-gosh advocacy of nebbish co-counsel C.P. (Dax Shephard, in his second supporting role in as many months). Still, much more of the film is Hank Palmer, reckoning concurrently with the father and the hometown he abandoned.

"You're just a boy from Indiana who's gonna do whatever he has to do to prove that's not true," a high-school flame (Vera Farmiga) tells him midway through the film.

Hank, who derailed the potential pro baseball career of his big brother (Vincent D'Onfrio) with a high-school car accident, was never the same in his father's eyes. He booked it to Chicago — graduating first in his class from Northwestern Law! — and didn't look back. When he arrives home for his mother's funeral after a 10-year silence, he greets his father as "Judge" and receives an impersonal handshake.

Tension (and, occasionally, private affection) mounts between them as the Judge admits a serious medical condition (Duvall's eggish head has never been more softly boiled), Hank flies his daughter in to meet her grandpa for the first time, and the murder for which the judge is accused emerges in sharper focus.

You'll know the full story and every character arc by about minute 25, but the remaining two hours — it's super long — will still be a joyride for lovers of RDJ and/or lawyerly inner turmoil. Consider it the somber, Midwestern sibling of last month's This is Where I Leave You.

Sidenote: Bon Iver's "Holocene" plays twice in the film, and has thereby become the go-to indie warble of Summer, 2014. It also appeared in one of the summer's worst films: Zach Braff's Wish I Was Here, which was even less watchable than The Judge's involuntary-poop scene.

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Cleveland Scene. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Cleveland Scene, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at [email protected].

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club


Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.


Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.


Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club for as little as $5 a month.

Read the Digital Print Issue

January 26, 2022

View more issues

Most Popular

No recently-read stories.

Visit the archives…

Newsletters

Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Calendar

Staff Pick Events

  • 19th Annual Standing Rock International Shorts Festival @ The Kent Stage

    • Sat., March 5
  • The Rocky Horror Picture Show @ Cedar Lee Theatre

    • First Saturday of every month
  • Rocky Horror Picture Show @ The Kent Stage

    • Fri., Feb. 18

© 2022 Cleveland Scene: 737 Bolivar Rd., Suite 4100, Cleveland, OH 44115, (216) 505-8199
Logos and trademarks on this site are property of their respective owners.


Website powered by Foundation