The Judge Review

So I watched The Judge…

Before I get into my review I just want to have a little rant about movie run-times. Round about ten years ago, the average length of a movie was around an hour and a half. I remember watching dvd’s and listening to the directory commentary and hearing how the director explained that certain scenes had to be shortened or dropped from the film to maintain the pace of the movie and ensure a shorter run-time. I feel that nowadays film directors feel that they have to add unnecessary scenes and are more unwilling to streamline movies for a shorter run-time. Now I don’t have a problem with this, I love movies and the more time I spend in a cinema, the better. The problem arises when a movie’s story doesn’t justify its extended length. I’ve thinking of movies like Exodus, The Wolf of Wall Street, Interstellar and Transformers. Directors need to understand that making a movie over two hours, does not make it a good movie AND, more importantly, you don’t need to show the audience every single little thing for them to understand and enjoy the story.

We go to movies because we want to be entertained and there’s nothing worse than when the entertainment a movie provides is weakened by its exuberant length. I’ve been in the cinema, enjoying a movie and then suddenly I can feel the length of the movie; I can feel that the demands of the story do not match the length. Then I become bored and start resenting the movie.

Now, I’m not saying that movies shouldn’t be two hours long, I’m just saying that they should be as long as the story deserves. Stop making bloated films with superfluous scenes that add nothing to the story or film. Please and thank you.

Okay, now that I got that out of my system, let’s talk about The Judge…

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Okay, basic plot: Robert Downey Jr. is Henry ‘Hank’ Palmer – a handsome, arrogant, smooth-talking, likeable asshole (so pretty much Robert Downey Jr.) – who has to go back to his hometown to defend his father – Joseph Palmer (played by Robert Duvall) – who’s on trial for murder. Oh, Hank is a lawyer by the way. Hank and his father don’t have the best of relationships, Hank’s dad is the local town judge and a bit of a self-righteous prick. The two men have to, unwillingly, deal with their issues while trying to keep Joe out of jail for the murder he’s accused of committing.

Now the reason why I had my little rant earlier is because The Judge is one of those movies that has a long run-time but that doesn’t feel long. The story demands the two hour run-time; actually, it deserves it! It never feels long or like it’s dragging and this was one of the best film experiences I’ve had in a cinema for a while.

Okay, the best thing about this movie is Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall’s acting. It literally had me entranced. I loved seeing them go at each other and they really sell the broken father-son relationship. Whenever the two of them are on screen fighting, it reminded me a lot of the fight scenes in John Wick. Not because they’re firing guns or anything but the thing that made those fight scenes so amazing is that they were raw. They weren’t finely polished, they were a struggle and, therefore, seemed more realistic. When Downey and Duvall fight, it isn’t a string of well-rehearsed insults with beautiful metaphors and witty retorts, no, it’s crude and messy. The two men are out to hurt one another and it isn’t slick or subtle at times.

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I really just want to highlight the quality of Downey’s performance. I think he’s perfected the role that he’s so often cast in and in this movie he brings all the qualities we expect from him – quick wit, barbs of sarcasm and irresistible charm but he also adds an emotional texture to the character that really makes all the difference. Robert Duvall is a legend and Downey not only holds his own but shows that he has quality that we have yet to see. Truly amazing acting.

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The richness and layering of the movie’s plot is so well done and at times this movie feels like a arthouse piece. On the surface this is a movie about an estranged father and son who have to work together to keep the father out of jail but there’s so much more depth than that to the conflict between the two. The film perfectly captures the spirit of broken father-son relationships and the complexity of hating someone that you’re obligated to love. The film is filled with raw emotion but you never feel forced to feel a certain way. It’s amazingly open-ended in that way. You see the two men fighting but neither of them are ever necessarily wrong or right because of this everybody is going to take away something different from this movie. Parents might side with Joe because they know what it’s like to have difficult children, younger people might side with Hank because of their own experiences with tough parents. That’s the beauty of this movie, it gives you a glimpse into these people’s lives and their drama without inflecting or enforcing a particular view on you. So, therefore, everyone’s going to take something different away from this movie and that’s a good thing, I think.

This movie is a great look at the turbulence and difficulty that comes with family and reminded me a lot of This Is Where I Leave You. It’s such an honest look into familial tension and its depiction of broken family bonds is remarkable. I really related to this movie because it felt so genuine.

One of my favourite parts of the movie was the question of integrity the movie asks. I don’t want to give too much away but Joe has the opportunity to swing the trial in his favour if he omits the whole truth on the witness stand but chooses to be completely honest, and incriminate himself, because he believes in the law. Hank is a bit of a sleazy lawyer and advises him against this but Joe justifies his actions by saying “I have to live here after this”. It was just an interesting subplot and had me thinking about whether or not I would have done the same in that position.

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Although the tone of this movie is very serious there is a lot of levity in the script. This really helps it not be too morose and helps the plot move along.

Vera Farmiga puts in a lovely performance in this movie as Hank’s ex-girlfriend. I’ve enjoyed every movie I’ve seen her in. Why isn’t she a leading lady yet? Billy Bob Thornton also puts in an amazing cameo, you end up simultaneously loving and hating his character, great acting.

Overall this is a really great movie and it really reminded me why I love going to the cinema so much. This movie didn’t have any huge explosions or cinematic setpieces that demand a big screen but the acting, writing and direction are so wonderful that you feel like you got your money’s worth. Get off your butt and go see this movie, you won’t be disappointed, I’m giving it an 8/10.

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