The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

“The Judge” Shines with Robert Downey Jr. As Lead


“Innocent people can’t afford me.” So begins the emotionally charged film, The Judge, directed by David Dobkin and starring Robert Downey Jr. in one of Downey Jr.’s finest, most complex performances to date. Uttered by Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.), the statement sounds ruthless and flippant—just the kind of thing any unscrupulous lawyer would say. And you’d be right—about the statement of course, not the lawyer.

Hank Palmer is one of Chicago’s best defense lawyers who specializes in getting his wealthy (and guilty) clients off the hook for their offenses. When news of his mother’s death reaches him in a courtroom one day, Hank packs his bags and flies back to his small hometown of Carlinville, Indiana, for the funeral. His return reveals the estranged relationship between Hank and his father, the stubbornly upright Judge (Robert Duvall).  Just as tensions explode and Hank hops on the plane again, he is called back to defend his father from a hit-and-run accusation.

Though the plot borders on cliched (reconciliation is the obvious ending), The Judge keeps viewers on their toes by throwing a murder trial into the mix. Even more unusual? The judge is the accused, and his lawyer is none other than his own son, who struggles to defend a man he once considered “dead to [him].”

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Interspersed with the main storyline are equally emotional subplots: Hank’s sparky relationship with his former high school girlfriend Samantha Powell who now runs a popular diner in town, the mystery of what went wrong in Hank and his father’s relationship and of course, the murder trial. With so much going on, the movie drags its feet in scenes that could have been shortened to half their original length. However, it is also a testimony to the directing of Dobkin that the film maintains a strong focus on the tenuous link between father and son.

Duvall and Downey truly carry the film with their complex, deft portrayals of two flawed characters struggling to make sense of a nightmare situation and heal the bitter past between them. Even Downey is proud of his role, tweeting, “This is the kind of movie I grew up wanting to make. Only took 49 years.” True to his words, Downey delivers, portraying Hank Palmer as both a coldly brilliant lawyer and a conflicted son who subconsciously yearns for his father’s approval. It is difficult to restrain from sympathizing with Hank as he defends his father with the same conviction one puts into Santa Claus: “My father’s a lot of unpleasant things, but murder is not one of them.” Ultimately, viewers will come to appreciate that underneath the lawyer facade, Hank is a loyal soul, the kind of person you’d want as a friend if ever in trouble.

With three action-packed Iron Man movies under his belt, it is pleasant change of pace to see Downey in a more dramatic, dialogue-driven role. That being said, fans of Downey’s Iron Man character, Tony Stark, need not worry: the same smart-aleck wit that characterized the obnoxious Stark shines through in this role as well. No moment captures this so well as when Hank uses his hyper verbal abilities and legal knowledge to dissuade three rednecks from beating up his brothers in a bar. But Hank’s glibness also plays another, more significant role: to add sprinkles of humor that lighten the otherwise heavy mood of the film.

A large part of the film’s appeal is its element of suspense. Up until the end, viewers are kept guessing as to whether or not the judge committed murder, along with some other juicy secrets about Hank’s past. Combined with an extreme depiction of a dysfunctional family (which makes us all feel just a bit better about our own families) and you’ve got a movie that will appeal to a wide range of audiences.

As for whether justice was served in the end… well, that’s up to the viewer to decide.

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