The Judge ***

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“The Judge” is a wonderful film about a family that has simply come apart through years of tragic moments. It also gives Robert Downey Jr. a break from the Marvel Universe to really sink his teeth in to a more dramatic role. Director David Dobkin, known more for movies like broader comedies like “Wedding Crashers” and “Fred Claus” shows here that he can really handle some difficult drama. I was surprised by how much this movie affected me after it was over.

Downey Jr. stars as Hank Palmer, a lawyer with questionable ethics who suddenly needs to fly to his home town to attend his mother’s funeral. This forces him to be with his brothers and father, all of whom he has not seen in years after some family drama we learn about later. His father is Joseph Palmer, the local town Judge. The first moment they see each other on screen is so cold I think I felt a shiver go down my spine. Vincent D’Onofrio and Jeremy Strong are his brothers, who he receives a little more warmth from.

Soon after the funeral Hank’s father is arrested for vehicular homicide. Guess who is going to step up and represent him in court? Of course his son Hank. This is a movie after all. One of the movie’s short comings is that it is rather clichéd. The heart of the story involves the family as they slowly begin to accept one another again. There is never a true reconciliation which might not be possible considering the events that drove them apart, but they do make a serious attempt.

Movies like this really depend on the performances by the actors. Robert Downey Jr. plays a character that we don’t really like nor do we really hate. He is very good here. His father is played by Robert Duvall, who gives his best performance in years as a man who is absolutely firm in his believes and has a very difficult time forgiving anybody.

Vera Farmiga also stars as Samantha, Hank’s high school sweet heart who still desires him. She knows full well he is leaving town in a matter of days but doesn’t mind getting a little action. There is a minor drama including her daughter who may or may not be Hank’s daughter.

“The Judge” really touched me. I couldn’t really care less about the court room plot. I was more interested in this family and how they started to heal old wounds that were so big that they were still felt years later.

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