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Oscar®Oscar® Nominee for Best Actor in a supporting role (Robert Duvall)

Movie Review

The Judge also known as “El juez,” “O Juiz,” “Der Richter. Recht oder Ehre”

MPAA Rating: R for language including some sexual references.

Reviewed by: Daniel Thompson

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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Legal Thriller Drama
2 hr. 21 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
October 10, 2014 (wide—2,700+ theaters)
DVD: January 27, 2015
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Relevant Issues
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different stages of a human life

difficulties of old age

memory lapses

dealing with death in the family

honor your father and mother

strained relationships between fathers and sons


holding on to grudges, instead of forgiving

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reconnecting with family

try to resolve differences with family, sooner rather than later

human selfishness

People are responsible for the consequences of their actions.

failing marriages

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alcoholism / drunkeness

DEPRESSION—Are there biblical examples of depression and how to deal with it? Answer

What should a Christian do if overwhelmed with depression? Answer

Where did CANCER come from? Answer

murder and death in the Bible

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justice of God

judges in the Bible

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Featuring: Robert Downey Jr.Hank Palmer
Vera FarmigaSamantha
Dax Shepard … Actor
Leighton MeesterCarla
Billy Bob ThorntonDwight Dickham
Sarah Lancaster … Lisa
Robert DuvallJudge Joseph Palmer
Vincent D'Onofrio … Glen Palmer
David Krumholtz … Mike Kattan
Balthazar Getty … Deputy Hanson
Ian Nelson … Eric
Ken Howard … Judge Warren
more »
Director: David Dobkin—“The Change-Up” (2011), “Wedding Crashers,” “Shanghai Knights
Producer: Warner Bros.
Big Kid Pictures
more »
Distributor: Warner Bros.

“Defend you honor.”

The “coming of age” story is a popular genre in literature and film. Why not? What’s better than seeing a protagonist grow up and experience new life? From Tom Sawyer to Scout Finch, there’s something special about seeing someone figuring out life for the first time: first love, first heartbreak, first struggle, first success. It leaves you with a sense of nostalgia; it brings back fond memories of your own childhood.

What about when the newness of life fades? What about the experience of old age, loss, missed opportunities, cancer, depression, and addiction? What about a “going of age” story? Sure, I probably just made that phrase up, but the idea of such a conceit is not nearly as palatable for obvious reasons: It’s real. Let’s face it, we’re all either growing up or growing old—all of us are either “coming” or “going”. While part legal thriller and part family dramedy, in many ways “The Judge” is also the antithesis of a “coming of age” story: a deeply sentimental, unflinching look at imperfect people trying to find meaning and love, long after the experience of life has felt fresh.

Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) is a successful defense attorney who has made a name for himself in Chicago. He has all the markings of a big-time defense attorney: smarmy, egotistical, and uncaring. He only cares about the verdict of his client; reality takes a back seat to what he can prove in court. Palmer is financially wealthy but morally bankrupt, as evidenced by his wife filing for divorce and his lack of ability to prioritize time for his daughter. Hank has clearly created a name for himself, but he’s forced to face his childhood once again when the death of his mother sends him back to his small-town Indiana home.

Palmer’s family isn’t in much better shape than he is; his older brother’s once burgeoning baseball career has been traded for ownership of the town garage. His younger brother suffers from a mental disability that keeps his mind in a childlike state, making it difficult for him to process his mother’s death. And then there’s The Judge. Joseph (Robert Duvall), the patriarch of the Palmer family, has served as town Judge for over 40 years. He runs a tight ship that is mandated by the letter of the law. His kids don’t call him “Dad”; they call him “Judge”. The Judge has never needed any help from anyone. In fact, he successfully kicked his alcohol addiction by going “cold turkey” over two decades ago, and he keeps a stocked liquor cabinet in his house just because it reminds him of his success.

Judge Palmer certainly doesn’t need any help from his middle child, Hank. They exchange a handshake and brief eye contact at the wake, but it’s clear they have little tolerance for each other. This dynamic is forced to change, however, when the Judge finds himself in a precarious situation where he’s accused of murder. As the plot continues to shift, we find a family of broken men who were previously held together by a loving matriarch. They have to figure out life without her, and do so through forgiveness and reconciliation.

“The Judge” is a moving film that wears its emotions on in its sleeve. It’s a powerful story of a family with wounds that are decades old, but still feel fresh. Above all, this movie portrays the difficulties of each stage of life in realistic, sentimental fashion. Life is messy, people aren’t perfect, and sometimes there just isn’t a right way to handle things. This film expertly sets its sights on a family of imperfect individuals who have held on to grudges and selfishness for far too long. Every character in “The Judge” is flawed—flawed in such a manner that demands redemption.

Along with its sentimentality, “The Judge” also offers a master class in acting. In two of the best performances you’ll see all year, Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall are forces of nature that collide on screen to rousing effect. At 82 years young, Duvall’s charisma and presence on screen remain as strong as ever. His portrayal of Judge Palmer, a hardened man of the law, is wrenching in its sincerity. His ability to show pain and anger without the use of words is uncanny. Not to be outdone, Downey once again shows why he is one of America’s best actors, going toe-to-toe with Duvall in many a scene.

The two leads feel like father and son—alike in their differences, and adamant that they are not to blame for the fallout in their relationship. Both of these characters cling to justice, and it’s evident that they both need grace. The reconciliation, forgiveness, and redemption on display in “The Judge” are some of the best to hit the big screen in quite a while.

“The Judge” is a realistic, R-rated family drama that’s made for adults. Profanity is present throughout the film, but never gratuitous. The language in the film is used with purpose, showcasing the anger of the Palmer family. There is little sexual content, although a few inappropriate jokes and off-handed remarks are present. Also, clocking in at just under two and a half hours, some moviegoers may have an issue with the length of the film.

Life is sacred. People matter. These basic ideals seem easy when you’re young. It’s easy to take for granted the importance of family and forgiveness. Everyone has their own “going of age” story; how do you find meaning in a difficult, finite life? “The Judge” doesn’t necessarily give you the answer to that question, but it offers hope, grace and forgiveness. That’s a pretty great place to start, whether you’re coming or going.

Violence: Minor / Profanity: Heavy / Sex/Nudity: Moderate

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Comments below:
Positive—Not enough drama in your own family? The Palmer family would like to share! There’s plenty of drama with a heavy dose of those comedic elements that occur in every family. The acting is superb and the cinematographer took full advantage of the picturesque New England town where it was filmed.

There was something about this script that really rang true. I know what it’s like to grow up in a small town and feel the need to escape. I know what it’s like to have a father that is an authority figure in town. Some people like him. Some don’t. But everybody has an opinion. Every single person was real, interesting and complex. I could not tell “The Judge” was over two hours. The ending was perfect but at the same time, I did not want it to end. I’m looking forward to the DVD where there might be deleted scenes and a commentary. more »
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Ann Barndt, age 49 (USA)
Neutral—I was disappointed in the moral makeup of this movie. I admire Robert Duvall’s acting skills. His performance in “Tender Mercies” is one of my favorites. He was excellent in this role of a judge also, and Robert Downey, Jr. did well as his brilliant lawyer son. Vera Farmiga yet again played a supporting role perfectly. However, the screenplay failed for me.

The storyline was not taut enough and drifted into several tangents. The premise of the story—the estranged father being defended by his estranged son—was intriguing, and so I tolerated the rather miserable society portrayed here. There were no sympathetic key characters save one. They were all spiritually reprobate people, including the judge, even though he committed his life to justice and right doing.

I am giving this movie a neutral rating because the action is full of immorality, yet the story has that fascinating kernel in which a court drama takes place between the father, who is accused of murder and his son, who is valiantly defending him. The movie also offers hope that even the worst relations between father and son can be mended.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Very Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4
Halyna Barannik, age 68 (USA)
Neutral—In brief, another jab at Conservatives would be enough to keep me from this movie! I think the main review of this film gives a pretty good description. I thought that, overall, the movie was good, and I enjoyed it, however, I am growing weary of Hollywood taking jabs at Conservatives, who I’m willing to guess are a majority of their customers! I have decided that I will not knowingly spend my money on any movie that insults Christians and/or Conservatives. For this reason I have had to miss several movies! Which brings me for my “Warning” about this movie!

(Small Spoiler Alert) During the movie, Robert Downey Jr., the Big City lawyer is showing off his skills to the less experienced small town lawyer who is helping defend his father, the Judge, on how to pick a jury. In so many words, MD Jr. Makes it clear that it’s not the smart people you want, it’s the one’s who are willing to believe anything (Hollywood code for Conservatives). His way of determining who is who among potential jurors is by asking them if they have a bumper sticker on their vehicle and asking “exactly what it says!” As he listens to the answers given, he either gives a wag of the finger down by his side indicating “No” or he gives an “ok” sign, ! The female juror who says that she has the sign “Coexist” (indicating a Liberal) is rejected (Too smart!). The male juror, who is the stereotypical white male, heavy set country boy with a beard, responds that his bumper sticker says “Gun Control Means Using Both Hands,” (indicating that he is a Conservative). RD Jr. Uses both hands to signal a double “OK” indicating, of course, that this juror is extremely gullible and will make a great juror!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4
—RD, age 45 (USA)
Neutral—I wish “The Judge” wasn’t so overplotted, because there is a great movie struggling to get out. “The Judge” is good, but could’ve been great with some trimming. It runs 141 minutes, but doesn’t quite earn the right to run this long. At 110 minute or so, this would’ve been quite the great movie, instead of merely a good one.

The great stuff includes performances by the great Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall playing a father and son greatly at odds with one another due to instances in their past. Downey starts the movie as a cocky, confident lawyer… but by the second scene we realize that is all an act, and this is a man who is greatly hurting inside. Notice the way he is offended that his family neglects to tell him they are going out for breakfast on the morning of his mother’s funeral. Downey handles his feelings in this and other scenes with wisecracks and droll remarks, not because “The Judge” is trying to be a comedy (although some of the wisecracks are funny) but because this is how Downey’s character expresses himself. more »
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 3½
—Andrew, age 38 (USA)
—Came away disappointed and frustrated. Because I like Robert Duvall, I chose to go to this movie with my daughter. Robert Duvall is a great actor and has let his Christianity be widely known. We all choose the paths we take and hopefully as Christ followers we cause people to want their great God we follow. Staggeringly, the F-word was used countless times over and again and was just so unnecessary. A real disappointment. I left the theater weary and frustrated.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Very Offensive / Moviemaking quality:
—Paul, age 61 (USA)
Negative—God’s name taken in vain by Robert Duvall, himself. Very disappointing!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Extremely Offensive / Moviemaking quality: ½
—3rdcommandmentviolation, age 49 (USA)

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