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TIFF 2014 Review: “The Judge” (2014)


Written by Nick Schenk and Bill Dubuque

Directed by David Dobkin

Cast: Robert Downey Jr. Vera Farmiga and Robert Duvall, Leighton Meester, Dax Shepard, Vincent D`Onofrio, Sarah Lancaster

A man who serves as a judge in a small town has just been accused in a murder!  Now he is the one who will face justice in court.  But will this judge be able to prove his innocence and clear his name?  Judge Palmer must face the prosecutor who knows all of his weaknesses and knows how to manipulate and turn them against him. There is only one person who can help him in his distress and establish his innocence.

The film begins with our hero, Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) who works in a big city as a lawyer. During a hearing he receives an unpleasant call from his father, telling him that his mother had passed away. The big city lawyer immediately returns to his childhood home to bury his mother, and tries to reconnect with his estranged family.

However, not everything goes smoothly. A few days later, Hank`s father, the Judge Joseph Palmer, becomes a prime suspect of a murder he says he did not commit. His son, Hank, is visiting his father because his mother has died. Despite Hank`s difficult relationship with his father, he agrees to take on his father`s case.  So now he is up against a formidable opponent in Dwight Dickham (Billy Bob Thornton), the local prosecutor, who knows exactly how to use Judge Palmer`s reputation against him.

In this story, Hank Palmer only takes the cases of people who have committed the crimes and are guilty by all counts – because as per Palmer – ‘innocent people can`t afford him’.  And now it`s Hank`s turn to demonstrate all his skills and ability; to find information and facts which he can use in order to defend his father and to win the most important case of his life.

The plot of “The Judge” is at first impression quite interesting. This was my expectation of the film.  Unfortunately, when I finished watching it, I could see that the film was very different from what was shown on the official trailer.

“The Judge” is directed by David Dobkin, who also directed such films as “The Change-UP”, “The Wedding Crashers”, and “Fred Claus”- all of them comedies. Maybe, Dobkin is very good at making funny films. But based on what I saw in “The Judge”, he misses in many important scenes, leaving lots of gaps and questions, such as- how could actors like Duvall,  Farmiga and Downey Jr. have agreed to be the part of this film, which so far, can be  considered as the Year`s  biggest disappointment.

Why Robert Downey Jr.  even took on to play this role is a mystery. Did he think the performance he might deliver in Dobkin`s film might bring him an Oscar?  That for sure is not going to happen. “The Judge” as a film is very slow and full of pointless scenes.  The script is extremely poorly written and leaves no chance for the lead actors to improvise or show their acting talent. In fact it is quite impressive that with the script handed to him, Robert Duvall was able to deliver in his performance as the judge now the accused trying to prove his innocence. With the same handicap, Robert Downey Jr did his utmost to be the skillful lawyer who would save his father’s reputation.

Having said that, my opinion is “The Judge” has nothing to offer us except a spectacular trailer. Everything starts and ends right there in the two minute trailer. The plot of the movie is not clear, nor is it developed very well.  It takes the viewer almost nowhere, except with only one desire – to leave the theater as soon as possible.

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