Reviewed for Shockya by Harvey Karten. Data-based on Rotten Tomatoes
Director: David Dobkin
Screenplay: Nick Schenk, Bill Dubuque, from David Dobkin and Nick Schenk’s
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Billy Bob Thornton, Vincent D’Onofrio, David Krumholtz
Screened at: Warner, NYC, October 6, 2014
Opens: October 10, 2014
Containing all the tension and some of the twists that make John Grisham novels best sellers, David Dobkin’s “The Judge” adds a Hallmark style reconciliation between a small-town crotchety judge and his estranged slick lawyer son. Director Dobkin, whose 2005 movie “Wedding Crashers” deals with two fun guys who sneak into weddings, takes on a story that’s quite a bit more serious now, and Nick Schenk and Bill Dubuque’s screenplay is designed to produce three or four Kleenex tissues from the more sentimental members of the audience while riveting attention on a courtroom drama where a charge of first degree murder is going down.
From time to time, the father-son confrontations between Henry Palmer (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall) are as spirited as any action in the courtroom where Henry, or Hank, practices as a crackerjack attorney known for getting white collar criminals off the hook and Judge Joe Palmer cracks the whip over sleazebags whose offenses range from denying child support to drowning a young woman.
We get a sense of each of the two principals when Judge Palmer, trying a fellow in the small fictional town of Carlinville, Indiana (actually filmed in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania), orderd an alimony skipper to turn the keys of his new truck over to his ex-wife. At about the same time his son, Henry, is about to win another white collar case, making charges against an embezzler disappear to the chagrin once again of the big-city prosecutor (David Krumholtz).
When Henry’s mother dies, he travels from Chicago to Carlinville for the first time in twenty years, reacquainting himself with his big brother Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio), his moderately retarded sibling Dale (Jeremy Strong), and the woman he took to the high school prom, Samantha (Vera Farmiga)—who now runs a successful diner overlooking a small waterfall. While rekindling the old romance (he’s about to be divorced from his wife back in the big city), Henry must face the raging hostility of his dad while fighting for his father’s honor and freedom in court against a prosecutor, Dwight Dickham (Billy Bob Thornton), who is determined to evoke the maximum penalty. Joe Parker has more than a touch of Alzheimer’s and insists that he cannot remember striking and killing a man on a bicycle, a fellow he had a motive to kill but swears that he has no memory of the accident.
Trying to elicit ooh’s and ah’s by playing up the role of Henry’s seven-year-old daughter Lauren (Emma Tremblay) while at the same time hoping to get the audience to root for a reconciliation between father and son, director Dobkin uses two first-rate actors in a John Grisham-type, small-town trial with its moments of unpredictable testimony. Nor are we allowed to spare the Kleenex when Judge Palmer reveals his diagnosis of Stage IV colon cancer, a plight made graphic by an unplanned bowel movement in his bathroom, wiped up and washed down by his son. What better way to reconcile can you imagine?
Some comic moments include a depiction of the inept, small-town lawyer (Dax Shepard) hired by Judge Palmer who throws up before each trip to the courthouse, and who is a model to prove that if you hire an expensive attorney rather than a local yokel whom you think with be liked by the jury, you are more likely to get a verdict more to the defendant’s liking.
“The Judge” may be overlong with a familiar story but serves well as both a tear-jerking family drama and small-town courtroom melodrama.
Rated R. 141 minutes. © 2014 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B
Acting – A-
Technical – B
Overall – B