Movie Review: The Judge – Moving family drama

Film: The Judge

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Billy Bob Thornton, Vincent D’Onofrio, Dax Shepard, Jeremy Strong

Director: David Dobkin

TV is awash with legal dramas which could learn a thing or two or more from David Dobkin’s moving film “The Judge” starring A-lister Robert Downey Jr. as manipulative legal beagle Henry “Hank” Palmer and thespian Robert Duvall as his ailing father and upright judge Joseph. Sharing stellar honours are powerhouse actors Vera Farmiga as Hank’s high school sweetheart and Vincent D’Onofrio as his embittered older brother. There is also an autistic younger brother called Dale and a winsome girl child. (Hank’s daughter)

Touching on old age, loss, missed opportunities and sickness, the story takes off when Hank returns to his Indiana hometown for his mother Mary’s funeral. As it turns out, his estranged father is suspected of the drive-by murder of a feckless layabout. Hank decides to defend his stubborn dad against ruthless prosecutor Dwight (Billy Bob Thornton) Dickham who is itching to put the judge behind bars.

A murder case and family dysfunctions collide in the courtroom of “The Judge” in  a compelling exploration of fractured relationships between siblings and lovers, and  between sons and fathers, relationships which are eventually healed but not before protracted bouts of fighting (that is slanging matches).

In one scene, Hank  asks his father if he believes there’s something after death. The judge points out that he’s 72 and afflicted by terminal cancer: “What choice do I have?”Their estrangement is captured early on in a beautiful shot of the two walking in opposite directions and towards the end, in a face-off in a tornado. A fishing boat on a placid lake is the setting for heart-warming reconciliation and forgiveness.

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