Passing Judgment on David Dobkin's "The Judge"

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The Judge starring Robert Downey Jr and Robert Duvall, now on Blu-ray and DVD.

In a Best Supporting Actor category this year that pits Hulk against Hulk (Edward Norton vs. Mark Ruffalo), the true giant to beat may be Robert Duvall, who was nominated by the Academy for his performance as Judge Joseph Palmer in this gripping, emotional drama, THE JUDGE.

The story from director David Dobkin and screenwriter Nick Schenk plays on the popular trope of the big city professional doing his job in small-town America. In this case, it's Robert Downey Jr. who portrays Hank Palmer, a hotshot lawyer who specializes in defending rich clients who are completely guilty. When he is notified of his mother's death, he travels back to his home town in Indiana, where old tensions still exist between himself and his estranged father, who is also the town judge.

Shortly after the funeral, as the younger Palmer is just about to make a hasty flight back, he gets another emergency phone call: his father has been taken in on a possible murder charge. Now the son who can barely conceal his need for his father's approval must represent the man who doesn't want him on the case. And as the drama unfolds, further family secrets come to light as we are expertly drawn into a web of past events that turned this family dynamic into what it is today.

Vincent D'Onofrio does an outstanding job playing Hank's older brother, Glen, but it's Jeremy Strong who really excels in his role of younger, autistic brother, Dale. Vera Farmiga embodies her role of Samantha, an old girlfriend of Hank's whom he abandoned when he left town unannounced years ago, and Leighton Meester has fun with her role of Carla, Samantha's daughter, who also makes a connection with Hank. And if Billy Bob Thornton had the opportunity to chew up any more scenery as prosecuting attorney Dwight Dickham, the Academy might have had a very difficult decision indeed between him and Duvall.

Trailers for THE JUDGE highlighted the confrontational and adversarial aspects of the father and son dynamic. However, there is so much more here in the layers of this script, with reconciliations that are subtle, unexpected, and unpredictable.

Bonus features on this release include a commentary track with David Dobkin, a light interview session with the cast members hosted by Dax Shepard (who plays the inexperienced C.P. Kennedy hired to defend Judge Palmer), a behind the scenes look at the making of the show with comments by cast and the director, and a collection of deleted scenes.

Previews on this release include AMERICAN SNIPER, JUPITER ASCENDING, HORRIBLE BOSSES 2, ISLAND OF LEMURS: MADAGASCAR, and IN THE HEART OF THE SEA.

Grade: 
4.5 / 5.0