The Judge

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The Judge

When sleazy big city lawyer Hank Palmer (Robert Downey, Jr.) takes time out from pissing on rival lawyers (in a toilet, of course) and snapping at his soon-to-be-divorced wife to answer his phone, he finds out his mother is dead. Rushing back to his small-town home, he’s not exactly surprised to find his father and local judge Joseph (Robert Duvall) still treats him with distain. Still, all he has to do is hang out with his brothers, former would-be sports star (until a car crash involving Hank ended his career) Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio) and the somewhat special and movie-camera obsessed Dale (Jeremy Strong) until the funeral’s over and then he can get back to his life. But then the next morning the judge’s car has a suspicious ding in the front bumper and a local dirtbag – who the judge once let off on a minor crime, after which said dirtbag went off and killed his girlfriend – is found dead from a hit-and-run, and suddenly Hank has a very good reason to stick around.
This is a surprise-free, by the number trudge through any number of folky clichés, and while both Duvall and Downey are great actors, all they’re given here is the chance to do a lot of capital-A “acting” that never really adds up to much. The occasional decent plot twist or development (the case is a lot less black-and-white than it first seems) is balanced out by some frankly nutty developments (there’s an incest mystery subplot that’s largely played for laughs), and the two-hour plus running time seems blatantly padded out, like an airport novel sold by length rather than quality.
In recent years this kind of legal drama has largely been confined to television; after this outing, the small screen starts to look a whole lot better.