Reviewed by: Daniel Thompson
different stages of a human life
difficulties of old age
dealing with death in the family
honor your father and mother
strained relationships between fathers and sons
holding on to grudges, instead of forgiving
reconnecting with family
try to resolve differences with family, sooner rather than later
People are responsible for the consequences of their actions.
alcoholism / drunkeness
What should a Christian do if overwhelmed with depression? Answer
Where did CANCER come from? Answer
judges in the Bible
Robert Downey Jr. … Hank Palmer
Vera Farmiga … Samantha
Dax Shepard …
Leighton Meester … Carla
Billy Bob Thornton … Dwight Dickham
Sarah Lancaster … Lisa
Robert Duvall … Judge Joseph Palmer
Vincent D'Onofrio … Glen Palmer
David Krumholtz … Mike Kattan
Balthazar Getty … Deputy Hanson
Ian Nelson … Eric
Ken Howard … Judge Warren
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|Director||David Dobkin—“The Change-Up” (2011), “Wedding Crashers,” “Shanghai Knights”|
Big Kid Pictures
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“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.