“I wish I liked you more,” wheezes a defeated Judge Joseph Palmer, as he slams the door on Hank Palmer, his son.

Palmer’s sentiments sums up what could be said about The Judge as well – a film that props itself up with the wooden legs of 2 Academy award winners (Robert Duvall and Billy Bob Thornton) and nominees (Robert Downey Jr. and Vera Farmiga). The stalwarts bear the brunt of a clichéd script that meanders its way around the story of a broken family and their various disagreements.


Robert Downey Jr. plays Hank Palmer, a powerful, razor-tongued lawyer who mostly defends the rich and guilty. Robert Duvall plays the crusty, beady-eyed Joseph Palmer, Hank’s father and a man of principle who spent the past 42 years as a small-town judge, but now suffers from cancer and memory loss.


The Judge begins with Hank being called home to attend his mother’s funeral, only to have his father called to court the next day for a hit-and-run – a crime that he cannot remember committing. A battle of conflicting interests follows, as Hank struggles to defend his amnesiac father while trying to repair their fractured relationship. Things are complicated further when the ethically righteous Joseph disagrees with his son’s methods and is determined to spill the beans in court – winning the case be damned.


A film of this nature wouldn’t be complete without a character who threatens to upset the establishment. Dwight Dickham (Billy Bob Thornton) holds a vendetta against Hank and is determined to bring the hammer down on Joseph. All these elements make for some decently intense courtroom drama, even if it’s not rooted in the correct legalese.


Sadly, the movie falls flat on its story-telling. We couldn’t ignore how The Judge lumbers through the movie as we’re drip-fed gratuitous scenes of backstory, but it’s even harder not to cringe at some clichéd scenes. In 1 such scene, Hank sighs, “Okay, let’s do this,” as he surveys his hometown, a glowing faction of beatific townspeople bathed in happy, buttery sunshine. In another scene, Hank’s family watches and reminisces over home-made videos of happier times on an old film projector.

However, where The Judge falters, it compensates with grace and subtlety in other scenes. Joseph stands alone at a funeral service as the crowd disperses. He places a hand on the coffin and, in a voice filled with emotion, utters “I’ll be back tomorrow” and makes to leave, only to turn back to complete his sentence whilst nearly in tears: “…And everyday after that.” Such scenes bring the cast strengths to fore regardless of the contrived scenes.


Thanks to director David Dobkin, of Wedding Crashers and Shanghai Knights fame, there were countless moments of surprising levity throughout the 2-and-a-half hour film, a relief in a movie dealing with somber material. Dale Palmer (Jeremy Strong) who plays Hank’s mentally-challenged brother brought excellent comedic timing and quips to the table. Audiences can also expect Downey’s – who is executive producer on the show – trademark razor-sharp delivery of his lines, which we’ve missed since Iron Man 3, his last movie almost a year and a half ago.

The Judge is a mixed bag of triumphs, letdowns, and moments of touching fragility, but there are more reasons to watch it than not. If you’re looking for something that’s not another bombastic-superhero-saves-the-world flick, and instead a film that hits closer to home, The Judge is worth the trip to the courtroom. And hey, we’re willing to acquit it of all charges for some Downey time.

Rating: 3.5/5

Release Date: 16 October 2014

Runtime: 141 minutes

Language: English

Censorship rating: TBA

Genre: Drama

Director: David Dobkin

Main actors: Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Billy Bob Thornton

Photographs courtesy of Golden Village Pictures Pte Ltd