The Judge is a movie about a seemingly heartless lawyer (Robert Downey Jr.) and his relationship with his problematic father (Robert Duvall). Hank (Downey Jr.) is forced to revisit his hometown–a place he doesn’t remember very fondly–after the death of his mother. Once there, he reunites with his slightly slow younger brother and his quick-to-anger older brother, as well as his dad, who seems to hate him. Old issues resurface, and when his father is tried for murder, they are forced to hash out their differences as father and son through their new relationship as lawyer and client.
The movie has some good scenes, like when Hank uses legalese to trump some bullies at a bar, or the scenes with his daughter that show he is a doting and loving dad. However, at other times, it seems overly sentimental. The legal arguments and trial presented in the film is solid, but the emotional climax of the movie happened during an interrogation and this just seemed to Hollywood-ish for me. Like, I doubt that could ever happen at any serious murder trial.
It was nice to see the dysfunctional family relationships gaining some semblance of normality once again, and mainly that’s because Hank decided to stay some more time at his hometown, as if his presence alone offered comfort and hope for the rest of the inhabitants he left behind. That’s why the ending of the movie didn’t come as a surprise, seeing how Hank found some happiness later in life in the place he used to hate so much.
It was interesting seeing Downey Jr. in a role that doesn’t involve an iron suit. He has potential as a dramatic actor, because he mostly lets emotion sit right under the surface, where it doesn’t overwhelm the viewer. If the plot had had more of that subtlety during its climax, it would have made for an overall better film.