Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Judge [2014]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (L)  ChicagoTribune (2 1/2 Stars) (2 1/2 Star)  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (S. Wloszczyna) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review  

The Judge [2014] (directed and story co-conceived by David Dobkin along with Nick Schenk screenplay by Nick Schenk and Bill Dubuque) is a Grisham-like iconic story, IMHO worthy of some serious consideration come Oscar Time, about the complex relationship between Father and Sons.

The film begins focused on Hank Palmer (played by Robert Downey, Jr) a hotshot/arrogant Chicago lawyer who's made his career helping millionaire white-collar criminals beat the rap.  "But does it bother you that you only defend the guilty?" asks a hapless State's Attorney rival.  "I defend the guilty because only the guilty can afford me," is his smart/casual reply.

Of course, the rest of Attorney Hank's life is a mess.  His wife (played by Leighton Meester) apparently got tired of him and began an affair with someone else, something that Hank's clearly been unable to get-his-head-around / forgive. Then, Hank gets a message from his hometown somewhere in southern Indiana that his mother died.  He hasn't been home in 20 years.  But it's mom who died, so ... he decides to fly home, briefly, for the funeral, no need to bring estranged/angry soon-to-be ex-wife AND 10 YEAR OLD DAUGHTER Lauren (played wonderfully throughout the film by Emma Tremblay) along...

The "homecoming" is about as one would expect for an a-hole who hasn't been home for years.  Only sweet, blessedly largely-in-his-own-world, developmentally-challenged younger brother Dale (played again wonderfully by Jeremy Strong) greets him nicely.  Older brother Glen (played by Vincent D'Onofio) notes the obvious "Gee, so you did come.  Where have you been for the last 20 years?"  Bereaved Dad (played again wonderfully by Robert Duvall) a stern but fair local judge basically ignores Hank when he arrives.  When Glen shows Hank to his old room, he finds that Dad's made it into a storage closet ... Apparently not too many "Christmas cards" had been exchanged between Hank and "the folks back home" over the years.

The question, of course, is why.  And, of course, that's the rest of the movie.

Now it turns out that bereaved and aging / no longer altogether healthy Dad comes to need his son when Dad, somewhat confused, gets involved in an accident that takes the life of a person that years before he had sentenced to prison for a notorious crime in the town when Hank was still growing-up.  But I would argue that this _device_ (of Dad and estranged son being forced to "work together") is actually "beside the point."

The real story in this film is the OBVIOUS preference of Dad for the older son Glen over the only-a-few-years-younger-son Hank (Everybody liked / felt sorry for the youngest son Dale).  MOST PARENTS WOULD FIND IT VERY HARD TO ADMIT THAT THEY PREFERRED ONE OF THEIR CHILDREN OVER ANOTHER.  IN THIS FILM, IT IS OBVIOUS that Dad preferred Glen.  And here he was a "stern and fair JUDGE" to boot.  Again, the question becomes WHY?

Fascinatingly, THERE'S AN ANSWER.  And it's an answer that IMHO does makes one think.  I myself am still uncomfortable with it.  After all, WE ALL want our parents to be impartial and love without distinction.  But the Dad's behavior here does come to make sense.  And, of course, that the Dad here is a JUDGE does play into providing an explanation as well (and on multiple levels).

I'm not going to say more here except that this film does offer some very interesting "food for thought" for "adult families" facing some real reconciliation issues. 

Yes, Robert Downey, Jr continues to play "Tony Stark" / "Iron Man" in this film.  Still I do think that he plays _more_ than "just Tony Stark" here.  And he plays his role quite well.  He's definitely NOT a hero in this film.  I also appreciate Leighton Meester's presence, however small, in this film.  Both she and Downey, Jr have some personal experience with difficult family situations and Downey, Jr certainly has experience in facing some tough personal demons.  Those experiences, IMHO, show in the film.

So good job folks, good job!

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