There is a scene in which the two Roberts have an argument in the car. They get out, and walk away from each other. The very next shot consists of a faraway show with the car sitting in the middle while the two are walking away. That scene is one of the most beautiful shots in the film, and also the most beautiful I’ve seen all year. Unfortunately for The Judge, the latest from director David Dobkin (Wedding Crashers), the cinematography is one of the truly remarkable achievements. This movie is far from a true masterpiece.
The Judge stars Robert Downey, Jr. taking a break from playing the genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist playing Hank Palmer, a successful Chicago lawyer who often defends guilty people (like Jim Carrey from Liar Liar). “Innocent people can’t afford me,” says Palmer when he was asked why he defends the guilty. He gets a call from his older brother Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio; Pvt. Pyle from Full Metal Jacket) that his mother passed away. He leaves for Carlinville, Indiana for the funeral.
Palmer gets rather an reluctant welcome. He is reunited with Glen, who used to be a great baseball player, Dale (Jeremy Strong), the autistic younger brother who likes to film things with his Super 8mm film camera, and his father Judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall). One day, a cop talks to Hank concerning his father. He has been accused of a hit and run after he picked up groceries one night. They work very hard to clear his name trying to know the truth of the case.
Even though the film contains a lot of cliches, Dobkin does a solid job balancing the drama with comedy. He makes the audience feel like they are part of the courtroom; feeling the tension between the judge and everyone else invested in the case. Outside the courtroom, however, it’s a mixed a bag. There are good scenes, like the two Roberts are having a dialogue where they misunderstand each other for years (I was on the verge of tears).
On the other hand, there are scenes in which I didn’t care for at all. There is a subplot where Hank reunites with his high school sweetheart (Vera Farmiga) at a diner. I see a kid and a pet rock having much better chemistry than these two actors. Nonetheless, The Judge is a decent melodrama, but it’s far from original. I’ll recommend it for the performances by Robert Downey, Jr. and Robert Duvall and a gifted supporting cast, and the sensational cinematography.