*** 1/2 out of 5
Rated R for language including some sexual references
Warner Bros. Pictures
Article first published as Movie Review: ‘The Judge’ on Blogcritics.
We all know dramadies are manipulative. Whether the characters wind
up deserving our empathy is another matter. Surprisingly, two directors
not known for making great films have now given us two of the year’s
better dramedies. Last month, Shawn Levy — known for the worst family
films imaginable — treated us to some Cameron Crowe-lite with This Is Where I Leave You, and now, director David Dobkin does one better. The Judge
is every bit as manipulative as you’d assume, and yes, the trailer
gives away most of the movie, but with Robert Downey, Jr. and Robert
Duvall leading the cast, prepare to feel bad for loving this movie.
“Hank” Palmer (Downey) enjoys being the lawyer innocents can’t afford.
But life calls him home to Carlinville, Indiana, following the death of
his mother. Leaving behind his cheating wife Lisa (Sarah Lancaster) and
daughter Lauren (Emma Tremblay), he arrives to less than open arms by
his father, Judge Joseph “Joe” Palmer (Duvall). His brothers Glen
(Vincent D’Onofrio) and Dale (Jeremy Strong) are far more welcoming.
While Hank can’t seem to get out of Carlinville fast enough, he still
finds time to reignite an old flame with Samantha (Vera Farmiga) before
finding Joe’s Cadillac scratched up with a broken headlight and the
Sheriff finding a dead body. Now, Hank has to stick around to help
defend the one client he doesn’t want to and deal with all the skeletons
in the Palmer closet.
Director Dobkin may be best known for comedies — the good: Clay Pigeons, Shanghai Knights, and Wedding Crashers; the bad: The Change-Up; and the ugly: Fred Claus
— but it never feels forced, easing the manipulative melodrama. Nick
Schenk and Bill Dubuque’s screenplay almost feels like a testosterone
version of a Lifetime movie, but the cast saves the day. The whole
Palmer clan feels like an authentic family. Coming from a family of
three boys myself, I can tell you, their portrayal is all too real.
Screaming and fighting one minute to acting like nothing’s happened the
next while everything sits on the backburner for another round — Dobkin
and crew nail it.
and Duvall manage to play off each other in several cases of machismo
gone wild, the best part of the movie are the scenes with Downey and
Farmiga, unfortunately, she is severely underused. I hope we get to see
them together again because they have fantastic chemistry. Downey and
Tremblay also make an adorable father-daughter. The Judge is
too long for sure, but the performances make it easier to take — even if
you always know what’s coming. This is definitely Dobkin’s best film so
far. It’s exactly the kind of soul food movie audiences crave during
the fall season, full of laughs and tissue moments.
Photos courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures